One Step Forward

Posted at 12:09 pm December 5, 2007 by Suzanne Hall

 Zhen Zhen 12-5-07Little Zhen Zhen is doing well and charming anyone who crosses her path. In the last two weeks, her walking skills have come online, and she is able to get her belly up off the ground well as she traverses the obstacles in her surroundings. She is routinely coming out of the den under her own power, exploring her bedroom or sunroom area, and often chooses to nap in the bedroom instead of returning to the den.

For her part, Bai Yun is beginning to give us mixed signals about the status of the “denning phase.” On Tuesday morning, keepers discovered she had defecated repeatedly in the den overnight. Clearly, the den isn’t being held in as high regard as it was previously. After the keepers cleaned out her den yesterday, little Zhen chose to crawl back inside and nap. Additionally, Bai Yun has used the den overnight since and managed to keep it clean. Any way you slice it, though, the denning phase is clearly winding down.

Soon Zhen will get an opportunity to explore the large, complex classroom exhibit her mother has been frequenting for weeks. Just yesterday the keepers gently coaxed Zhen into the tunnel area that links her bedrooms to the classroom. Little effort was needed, since our engaged little panda is curious and bold. She moved easily through the tunnel and stepped onto the ledge separating the classroom and tunnel areas. That was enough for one day, however, as she soon turned back and made her way back toward the bedrooms. Once there, her exploits clearly exhausting, she crashed for a long nap.

We’ll see how well and how quickly Zhen adapts to this new challenge in her life. Before Bai Yun knows it, she’ll have a daily companion in the classroom. If our last several cubs are any indicator, she’ll be climbing high in the trees in no time!

Suzanne Hall is a senior research technician with the San Diego Zoo’s Giant Panda Unit.

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34 Responses to “One Step Forward”

  1. Pat Welch says:

    Hello to all. I was wondering how soon Zhen Zhen will be ready to go out and been seen by the public? I am going to be going to the zoo and want to be able to see her. Thanks for all you do for the Pandas and keeping us imformed. Thank you

    Pat W

  2. Lee in Vancouver says:

    I can’t believe Zhen is 4 months old already. Her awake time is getting much longer and hopefully she won’t sleep up in the trees as Su Lin did all day.

    Please keep us posted on the milestones as they come along.

  3. Margaret says:

    Thanks for the update, Suzanne. I thought I saw Zhen on the camera out in the open area with Bai several days ago. There was a pile of bamboo, Bai Yun was propped up against a tree, and under the bamboo was a tiny panda that kept popping out as if she was playing peek-a-boo. It is amazing how fast cubs go from barely walking to climbing. But, in the wild once they are away from the safety of the den they need the security of being high up in a tree while mom is away foraging. That instinct is still there for captive pandas too, so off they go as soon as they can. I am sad every time I see how little real climbing Mei Lan can do. The highest she can go is about 12 feet on the tallest log in her day room, and about the same on a log on the outdoor platform. She went up there as soon as Lun Lun would allow her to. Since then she has come back down to the larger top platform to rest as it is likely more comfortable. I enjoyed watching Bai Yun stretched out on a log in the classroom climbing structure the other day. She looked quite blissful catching a few winks before her little munchkin gets more mobile.

  4. Kris says:

    Yes, Suzanne – any idea when Zhen will make her public debut? We are going to be in SD in January and are planning a visit to the zoo. Fingers crossed that we get to see that ” precious” girl in person!


  5. Eva says:

    I am excited to see Zhen Zhen’s next phase. She grows up too fast! It’s like she’s skipped a stage or two.

  6. Claudia says:

    Oh what a beautiful gift precious Zhen is! The tears still come from missing Mei Sheng and it seems as if Su Lin is sad and lonely without him. Will the sisters be able to see each other in the future? (also, I am having trouble seeing Mei Sheng in China now-it was not difficult the first few days) Blessings to all of you…Claudia

  7. Chari Mercier says:

    Hi! Just read your blog about Zhen. Looks like those little legs are kicking in pretty well now, and she’s going strong! Now, Bai will really have her work cut out for her when she will have to chase little Zhen all over the place. She should be ready for this by now after going thru this with her other 3 kids. When Zhen gets going alot more, the fun will begin! When I’ve gone on the pandacam, I have seen Zhen all curled up in her favorite corner in Bai’s big room. Looks like this little girl has already picked out her napping spot! She’s figured out that the den isn’t the only place to take naps in. She’s smart! I still can’t believe how much she’s grown and how fuzzy she’s gotten. She’s a little furball that is beginning to get alot more active–for sure! It’s snowing in DC!! Gonna get on their pandacam in the morning to check out Mei, Tian, and Tai having some fun in that snow. This is the earliest that DC has had snow this year, and it looks like a good one this time. Last year, they only had 2 small snow falls, and the pandas didn’t have too much to play and roll around in. I think that this time, they are going to have a blast in this snow!

    Well, gonna go and check out Bai and Zhen on the pandacam.

    Chari Mercier 🙂

    St. Pete, FL

    Moderator’s note: Speaking of snow, the Wild Animal Park’s African elephants will get 15 tons of snow in their exhibit on Saturday, December 15, and the gorillas at the Park will get 8 tons of snow in their exhibit on Sunday, December 16!

  8. Maureen in Michigan says:

    I must be watching the cam at the wrong times as I haven’t Miss Z exploring the last few days. Obviously Bai doesn’t mind Zhen being out & about – I remember Mei Xiang dragged Tai back inside everytime he ventured out. You mentioned ” coaxing” her into the classrom, (I wonder how she was coaxed). Quite an adventure for our miss precious to be zooming through tunnels to a huge new area. It sure sounds like Bai is going to have her paws full with this fearless, adventerous cub unlike Mei Sheng who was always cautious with new things. Also in the one izoofarichats, one of the keepers mentioned that they would sit outside the den & talk to the cubs to get them used to their keepers. I wonder if this has been done yet with our miss zoom.

    # 3 Margaret – Yes, in a way it’s too bad that Lani does’t have the trees to climb like the NZ & SDZ have. From some videos I’ve watched it looks like are some trees in the outdoor exhibit but I’ve only seem Lani on her climbing structure. One smart panda, why try to get comfy on a small branch when there is whole wide structure to sleep on.

    And if Zhen is anything like SuLin, once she learns how to climb, we’ll never see her. Zoo visitors are not happy standing in a long line only catch a glimpse of a cub through leaves high in tree.

  9. Carol says:

    Thank you so much for the numerous updates! Little Zhen is one of the bright spots in my otherwise very stressful life right now and is not always on the Panda Cam when I have time to check, so your blog posts are most appreciated!

    I’m betting that SDZ goes public with Zhen Zhen as a Christmas gift to all of us — although I dread the day she finds the trees! Once Su Lin was in full climbing mode, that was pretty much it for cub-watching at SDZ . . . honestly, I much prefer the Atlanta set-up, which rewards us pandaholics with more viewing time. But, I guess the SDZ way is closer to what Mother Nature provided . . .

    God bless us all, every one!!

  10. Joy :) says:

    In the wild, would a cub Zhen’s age be safe to wander around without its Mother? –Just curious and wondering.

    It seems like it would be unsafe for her in the wild to be separate from her Mom and tottling here and there while her Mom ate and did grown-up Panda things in another area oblivious to her cub.

    What did the Keepers use to coax Zhen through the tunnel to the classroom area? Was it food treats?

    It’s always exciting when a baby is able to move on its own. Then you can see its independence really being exerted. I’m glad to know she’s an adventurous young panda cub… They grow up sooooooooo fast!!! (sob, sob)

    Love, Joy 🙂

  11. Carol in Austin says:

    The latest exam video really shows Zhen Zhen’s mobility! It seems to me that she developed her walking skills quickly – once she got all that ” fluffy” off the ground. The exam video is the best yet – I think little zoom zoom might be turning in to a camera ham. It’s not exactly clear, but I think she waved goodbye as she was carried back to the den. Well, we should enjoy this toddler phase as much as we can – soon she will be up the trees and out of pandacam view. Zhen Zhen is indeed precious!

  12. Lainie says:

    I also noticed Zhen, is very mobile, and inquisitvie. Yesterday I saw her in the den playing with some bambo sticks. It actually appeared via the cam that she was sitting up and trying to eat the bambo, or possibly mimicking her mother maybe ? Whatever she was actually doing, it was very cute, and I could not take my eyes off her. Her personality is definately shining through ! Looks like Bai Yun is going to have a little rambunctious one on her paws !! =)

  13. Rhoda says:

    Hi Everyone! Can someone tell me if the ” classroom” area is the outside area where we see Bai eating her bamboo? I’m trying to get a picture of ZZ’s progress, and how many ” rooms” she’s got access to. I loved the video of her last exam – thank you all for playing with her for us – since we ALL I’m sure would LOVE to be able to do that! I just can’t get enough of watching her in her new endeavors! Take care.

  14. Michelle says:

    What a cute exam video! When ZZ puts her face right up into the camera I cracked up. It’s neat to see that she still has some pink pigmentation on her fur from bathtime with mom. Keep growing big and strong sweet baby girl!

  15. Margaret says:

    #8 Maureen, if you look closely at ZA cam shots of trees in the exhibits, they are all protected from pandas climbing them. Therefore Lani has no access to climb a real tree. Only man-made structures and logs from dead trees used in the day rooms. However, the NZP and SDZ have numerous real live trees available to be climbed, and the broken branches that abound are ample evidence that they are used. One of the funniest sights to see is Mei Xiang and Tian Tian at NZP wrestling in a tree. Having seen them in action in person, I am amazed that they don’t break more branches with their 400+ pounds combined weight on branches that are less than 5-6 inches in diameter. I remember some informal guide to tree climbing for children of an inch in diameter of the branch for every so many pounds of child. Obviously that is not an issue for Mei Lan (Lani) since she can’t to any of them.

  16. Mary says:

    Was ZZ giggling with her paws over her eyes when the keeper was tickling her? She is adorable.

  17. Mary from SF says:

    I know it’s only fair that those of you who care for her every day get to do the belly-scritching and snuggling, but still…. Ah, well, I will settle for vicarious thrills 🙂

    The video of the two new grizzlies is wonderful, too–what beautiful bear-brothers! I will definitely be visiting them when I come to the zoo next spring.

  18. Sammi in UK says:

    She is one beautiful baby panda cub!

    Poor Bai Yun she’s going to be run off her feet when she really gets going. It’s so amazing to be able to watch her growing up on the panda cam. Reading about things like this in books is interesting but to be able to watch it all unfold before our eyes is an amazing gift. How very lucky we all are. When you think going back in time there were no such things as web cams or ” panda cams” . Wonder what even my Grandparents would have made of it all?

    Thank you so much SDZ for the way you keep us informed about how all the animals are getting along.

  19. Catbelly says:

    4 months – already???? Can this be possible??? I dang near died when I saw Zhen Zhen zooming around, and quite confident at that! Suzanne, thanks so much for your update. And be sure to give her tummy a tickle for me!!

    Her exam video is adorable (as always). Looked like she was playing peek-a-boo with her keepers! And I, too, would love to tickle that gigunta belly of hers. What a little doll.

  20. Vicki says:

    I loved Hua Mei. I adored Mei Sheng. Su Lin was so sweet and beautiful. And now Zhen Zhen who just melts my heart. How I envy all of you that get to become so close to these charming little bears.

  21. Bobbie Wood says:

    Dear Suzanne,

    Thank you for the update on Zhen AKA ‘Zen” (at my home). This little cub is a total joy to watch! I am wondering a couple of things. First, when little miss Zhen is rolling around, is she ‘speaking’? Also, i am wondering how often she is in the nursing mode. She is growing very fast and Bai Yun is the most patient Momma I have ever seen (humans included 🙂 ) I sat mesmerized the other morning for 40 minutes as Zhen attempted to engage her mother. Bai was so remarkable in her tolerance and eventually Zhen ran out of steam after many attempts to climb up on Bai’s back. Only after little Zhen fell asleep, did Bai leave the den.

    Thank you for the update, and thank you all for the videos of the exams. Zhen now knows she is a Star! I loved the close-up and the paw swat at the camera. I have Grandchildren who do the same thing 🙂

    Bobbie Wood

  22. Lilarose says:

    I watched Tai Shan grow up, but I have missed some of this little girl’s growing up activities. I kept waiting for her to roll over! Surely she has done that by now! About what age did it happen?

  23. Mary H says:

    I have just discovered how to communicate with y’all regarding the PandaCam…DUH!!! At approximately 21:23 on 12/6 I observed a very lengthy ” play” period between Bai and Zhen. I assume this type of behavior has some benefit for both of them. Would love to know more about it.

    Also, now that ZZ is getting so big, how does she nurse? I would assume she’s too heavy for Bai to pick up and cradle.

    And, finally…I’d just like to let you know how much I have enjoyed watching the development of each of the cubs, along with the text you’ve provided. I know it feels like ” old hat” with ZZ but I miss the daily comments that you posted with the others, especially the first one.

  24. Cheryl says:

    That is one of the CUTEST exam videos I have ever seen! She’s a doll – and a bit of a ham – making sure she got her close-up. And what about when she was on her back – getting her belly scratched – and she was covering her eyes with her paws – oh my gosh – cute, cute, cute! I’m really looking forward to the day she goes on exhibit – but until then – keep the videos and updates coming.

  25. Marie says:

    Moderator, Is the room that the birthing den leads into, Bai Yun’s bedroom? Also, I can see a doorway to another room/area. What is that called. After watching three babies grow up, (I did not know about Hua Mei) I am still trying to figure those areas out.

  26. Miranda says:

    This doesn’t have anything to do with your cub but a question as to why the San Diego Zoo keeps the bears separated. When I read about them enjoying each other’s company at the National Zoo in D.C. and watch them playing on the panda cam, it makes me sad for the bears in your zoo. This is the write up today from National Zoo. I wish your bears could play and have this much fun. There were photos of the two rolling in the snow together that went with the write up. So if those bears choose to play and choose to stay apart on any given day, why is it that your bears are kept apart on purpose when they could make up their own minds?

    ” News from the Fujifilm Giant Panda Habitat

    December 6: Snow Day!

    Snow days are heavenly days for pandas. Yesterday, while many of us were sliding our way though an icy rush hour, the pandas were getting down to some serious eating and play sessions.

    Oh, what joy it is to see pandas play in the snow! Tian Tian and Mei Xiang have enjoyed several rough and tumble play sessions. The ability to roll and slide with more speed seems to especially excite them. Mei always reminds Tian that she is still definitely in charge of the start as well as the finish of each play session.

    Tai also spent time bounding through the snow, leaping up on his hind legs and pouncing into the air, down with a quick twist to rear up and do it again! It was also so much fun watching him rub snow all over his body and then shake it off just as vigorously.

    The pandas are eating the yellow groove and bissetti bamboo species. A mere month ago it was an effort more them to do more than nibble on the leaves. Now the eating is more focused and they are beginning to consume the stalk, or culm, with enthusiasm.

    The pandas are sharing a new toy called ping’s pearls as they switch yards. It is a string of yellow and red balls that ends in a thick tab of fire-hose. Designed for polar bears, it seems to be holding up under the attention of those bamboo-crushing jaws. It is a definite hit. When they tire of it on the ground, it gets carried up a tree where it dangles like an ornament and is even more exciting.”

  27. panda fan says:


    And here is a recent article that may answer your question.

    Panda duo like their space


    By Allison Hoffman

    Associated Press

    Article Launched: 11/24/2007 01:37:08 AM PST

    SAN DIEGO – Giving each other space may not work in every relationship, but it’s what keeps the magic alive for the giant panda pair at the San Diego Zoo.

    Since 2003, Bai Yun and her consort, Gao Gao, have produced three cubs, making them one of the most reproductively successful panda couples ever in captivity. Their youngest offspring, a chubby female, will be named Monday when she reaches 100 days old, following Chinese tradition.

    For all but two days of the year, Bai Yun (White Cloud) and Gao Gao (Big Big) lead separate lives, gnawing on bamboo and taking long naps in pens far apart, much as wild pandas – naturally solitary creatures – would hide from each other in forests.

    But when Bai Yun enters her brief fertile periods, zookeepers make sure Gao Gao is there, sniffing her through a perforated gate that zookeepers call the ” howdy door” until her chirps and bleats indicate she’s ready to get down to business.

    ” For 363 days a year they don’t want to have anything to do with each other,” said Ron Swaisgood, co-head of the zoo’s panda research unit.

    Bai Yun gave birth to her first cub in 1999 through artificial insemination from her first arranged suitor, Shi Shi (Stone). It was the first giant panda cub in the United States after a decade of failed breeding attempts.

    Since then, pandas have been born at zoos in Washington, D.C., and Atlanta.

    Gao Gao arrived in San Diego in 2003 after veterinarians gave up on Shi Shi, who turned out to be older and less virile than originally believed and was returned to China.

    Putting the (technically) virgin Bai Yun with Gao Gao, who also had never mated, caused some concern. Swaisgood thought it might be like ” the blind leading the blind.”

    Instead, Gao Gao surprised everyone by mating with Bai Yun three times in a single day.

    Gao Gao is aggressive during the first 24 hours of Bai Yun’s cycle and then wanders back to his bamboo pile once he’s had his fill – even if Bai Yun beckons him with her customary booty-shake.

    ” He only has interest in her for one day, but day two or day three, when she’s still exhibiting interest, he just has nothing to do with her,” said Kathy Hawk, the zoo’s senior panda keeper. ”

    Bai Yun gave birth to a male panda in 2003 and to a female panda in 2005. Pandas don’t wean their cubs for about two years, so every other spring Gao Gao, believed to now be 17, is out of luck with Bai Yun, who is 16.

    Gao Gao’s value as a stud breeder is high. Rescued from the wild and raised at the Wolong Nature Reserve for Giant Pandas in China, he isn’t related to any other captive pandas, who are in danger of becoming inbred as their population swells.

    More than 180 pandas live in captivity at three facilities in China, where 12 sets of twins were among the 31 cubs born this year, according to the state news agency Xinhua. Bai Yun’s first cub, Hua Mei (China/U.S.A.), has borne three sets of twins since returning in 2003.

    Gao Gao’s prowess has provoked a bout of panda envy elsewhere.

    Earlier this year, the National Zoo in Washington used a sample of Gao Gao’s semen to try to artificially inseminate their panda, Mei Xiang, who set off a panda craze in the capital when the zoo’s own male panda fathered her cub in 2005.

    The Washington Post chronicled the journey of a 2-foot tall tank of dry-ice cooled substance from San Diego to Washington in March, writing that Gao Gao had the ” liquid eyes” of Johnny Depp and the ” sultry mystery” of Antonio Banderas. After the pregnancy failed, one blogger on the Web site DCist gave the setback a positive spin, saying Washingtonians can ” sleep better tonight knowing that Washington panda sperm is indeed superior to that of Southern California.”

    Gao Gao, who lolls in his sun-dappled pen, double-fisting bamboo, is eliciting less fawning coverage back home. The San Diego Union-Tribune recently published a story that said the people were jaded by the pandas’ success.

    The newest cub remains hidden with Bai Yun in a cozy den that can only be seen by the public via Web cam. The zoo will announce the cub’s name from among four finalists: Li Hua (Beautiful China), Ming Zhu (Bright Treasure), Xiao Li (Little Beauty) and Zhen Zhen (Precious).

  28. Sayuri says:

    Just adopted Miss ZZ. Nice desktop photo and screensaver. Very cute.

    Moderator’s note: For others wishing to ” adopt” Zhen Zhen or others, please visit

  29. Paula says:

    #26 Miranda…I also looked at the pandas playing in the snow at the Washington zoo, it was so cute! Hate to say it, but their videocam rocks compared to the San Diego one, but maybe it was just the good lighting. Let’s pull in some funds to San Diego and give the giant pandas a Snow Day for their very own…hey, check out the December Wish List, looking GREAT. How wonderful to see the many items already purchased for the critters of SD Zoo.

    Also, Miranda…I gather the SD Zoo keeps pandas separated that aren’t mother/child. I read that Bai and Gao only get to umm..have a ” date” once a year. Sort of like all married couples 🙂



  30. Lisa Anderson says:

    Zhen is such a delightful lil girl, and I am sure we shall have many amusing times ahead watching her grow! I can’t help daydreaming of one day pairing her up with that sweetie in Vienna, the Happy Dragon himself, Fu Long, ancestry permitting of course. Unstoppable panna matchmaker, that’s me!

  31. Lisa Anderson says:

    Margaret, I too saw Bai Yun lounging when you did, and she sure did look very calm and at peace, a happy mommy panda!

  32. barbara says:

    Paula#29, it’s great to see that alot of items have been purchased for the Dec wish list, but I hope folks know that even if you can’t afford a specific amount I’m sure Marla would be able to accept whatever you would be able to give, after all it comes from your heart for our beautiful critters. This is a great way to wish everyone who takes care of our beautiful animals large and small a Happy Holiday.

  33. Rhoda says:

    Okay I’m enjoying watching ZZ outside (?) with Bai Yun, showing on camera C29 – does anyone know where this camera is? Is it in a tree? I feel like we are WAY UP ABOVE them!

    Thanks to anyone that can clear it up for me! Have a good one!

  34. Barb in Surrey, BC says:

    Darn! I have been trying all week to get a glimpse of zz…to no avail. Where IS she? I see Gao and Bai and lots of ground, but no babeeeeee! Isn’t this little one EVER in one place for a minute? Please grant me a closeup today, I feel I am missing her cute stuff!