San Diego Zoo celebrates Panda’s birthday

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – The San Diego Zoo's youngest giant panda nibbled on an elaborate cake of ice, bamboo and fruit today during a celebration of his second birthday.

Yun Zi, whose name means “son of cloud,” is the son of Bai Yun, a female who has given birth to five cubs in her nearly 20 years, and Gao Gao, which means “Big Big.”

All five of Bai Yun's offspring were born at the San Diego Zoo, which pays China a hefty fee to maintain panda exhibits.

Pandas born at the San Diego Zoo are considered on loan from China and must be returned after their third birthday. Each of Yun Zi's siblings were sent to the Wolong giant panda reserve in China as part of a conservation breeding program.

Giant pandas are a critically endangered species, in part because of deforestation and the expansion of farming. The bamboo-eating member of the bear family has lost much of its forest habitat in the mountainous areas of southwest China to roads and railroads, according to the nonprofit World Wildlife Fund.

Bai Yun's birth in September 1991 is considered special because it marked the first successful birth of a giant panda at the Wolong reserve. Her first offspring, Hua Mei, born in 1999 through artificial insemination, was the first giant panda born in the United States to survive into adulthood.

Hua Mei was sent to China in 2004, and Mei Sheng, born in 2003, was sent three years later. Late last summer, Su Lin, born in 2005, and Zhen Zhen, born in 2007, were each sent to China.

Hua Mei means “China USA,” Mei Sheng means “born in the USA or beautiful life,” Su Lin means “a little bit of something very cute,” and Zhen Zhen means “precious.”

Yun Zi's birth on Aug. 5, 2009, was a welcome surprise to zookeepers.

Zoo officials said they didn't know Bai Yun was pregnant until about a week before Yun Zi was born. Panda pregnancies typically last from 85 to 130 days.

The name Yun Zi was chosen by public vote and pays tribute to Bai Yun, whose name means “white cloud.” The public chose Yun Zi over names that meant “blissful San Diego,” “little dragon,” “extraordinary bear,” and “eternally blessed.”

Categories: KUSI