The Next Stage

Posted at 6:38 pm December 23, 2008 by Anastasia Horning

While watching Zhen Zhen and Bai Yun, it shows that we’re getting close to a new stage for the panda youngster. In just a few months we will see Zhen Zhen and Bai Yun begin to separate. This would normally happen in the wild anywhere from 18 months to 2 years old. Although Zhen Zhen does still nurse from mom, Bai Yun will ween the cub completely soon. Zhen is actually eating a very good amount of bamboo already. She has shown a lot of interest in the stalk of the bamboo, and has shown all of us that she can maneuver the bamboo to eat the same thick part as mom. Panda cubs first begin eating solids around 10 months, usually starting on the leaves and smaller parts of the stalk. As they grow older, they will be able to break through bamboo quickly, and efficiently.

Zhen Zhen has been spending a good amount of time on her own and entertaining everyone at the San Diego Zoo’s Giant Panda Research Station. As we get closer to the 18-month mark, keepers and researchers will observe Bai Yun’s behavior toward the cub and will decide when it would be a good time to begin the separation process. Bai Yun may be a little unwilling to share food, and sometimes even space. At 18  months, the cub will become a solitary giant panda just like she would in the wild.

Here at the Zoo, we are hoping to preserve the natural behavior of the animals, and with the giant pandas this has paid off. Having Bai Yun be such an experienced mom helps us with this process as well. She knows exactly what will be going on with the cub and prepares the cub for her life without mom. Zhen Zhen will have her own enclosure here at the Zoo and will still be able to be viewed by the public.

Leaving mom at 18 months also allows Bai Yun time to herself before she comes into her next estrus. Female giant pandas will only come into estrus once a year, but if the female is caring for a cub still in the den she will skip that estrus. The separation at 18 months will make sure that she is still able to cycle.

Anastasia Horning is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo.

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42 Responses to “The Next Stage”

  1. Margaret says:

    Emotionally painful for humans, but true. Hopefully we (panda fanatics) have learned from the successful weaning of Su Lin, Tai Shan, and Mei Lan in the past 18 months that all the zoos have the animals best natural instincts at heart. SDZ has led the way and developed as natural a process as possible which both NZP and ZA followed when weaning Tai Shan and Mei Lan. Both of them were very successful as well, as evidenced by the birth of Xi Lan.

    Without the weaning of a cub, there is no possibility of an other cub to be born. So, although it can be emotionally tugging for humans, we must remember it is the natural way of the panda in the wild, and hang on for the success that follows.

    Happy Holidays everyone!

  2. Dianne in Texas says:

    No matter how many times all us pandaholic moms go through this process with the pandas, the next time is always harder than the last. The little ones always seem so forlorn and alone, and sometimes we don’t remember that it is that way in the wild. But at least we have a few more weeks before the pain starts. Zhen Zhen, my heart goes out to you in OUR time of difficulty. May your Christmas be merry and bright, and also to all of you gents and lady bloggers out there. Stay warm and dry and safe through the holidays.

  3. Chari Mercier says:

    Wow!!! We’re starting to get close to that weaning time again! It’s always tough to see a mom and cub go their seperate ways, but by the time ZZ turns 18 months, she’ll have grown up alot to be able to start her life on her own. ZZ and Bai will need to spend as much time together as they can until that month arrives! Great info for us to know about, Anastasia! Thanks!


    Hope everyone at SDZ and all of the people that write in on this comment page have a great Christmas with families and friends!

    Chari Mercier 🙂

    St. Pete, FL

  4. Susan (UK) says:

    I’ve never seen the weaning process before as ZZ is my first baby Panda, so I’m looking forward to it with interest. At 4.28am SDZ time either Bai or ZZ (hard to tell which is which when they’re on their own) was out enjoying a bamboo snack.

    Lee in Vancouver – hope you don’t get snowed in. I heard on the news this morning about the woman in Canada who went out shopping and ended up completely trapped in her car for 3 days. Luckily they found her and she’s recovering in hospital with severe hypothermia.

    Although I said it on the previous blog, I’ll do it again. Have a very Merry Christmas everybody.

  5. Michelle says:

    Sniff….sniff…..I know this process is necessary but everytime the babies go thru this I get sad!

  6. Melissa says:

    The new year will be bringing changes for the pandas. It is so enjoyable to watch mother and cub interact. As a result, it’s hard to see them go through the separation process. Something tells me that it will be harder for us to watch than it actually will be for Bai and ZZ to go through it. I hear “Circle of Life” playing in my head as I think about it. 🙂

    I was wondering yesterday whether any research has been done that compares maternal behavior of female pandas that were hand-raised themselves to those who stayed with their panda moms through their first 18 months of life and to those who were partially reared by their panda moms but taken away from mom when they were very young (such as Lun Lun, who was taken from her mom at 4 months). From all of the reading I’ve done on pandas, there are some variations between captive females as to how they mother their cubs. It seems that those variations aren’t necessarily attributable to the differences between being a first-time mom vs. being a “veteran.” It has made me curious whether a little bit of maternal panda behavior is attributable to learning from one’s own panda mom, rather than being purely instinctual, and whether that learning is missing from female pandas who are bottle-raised by humans or taken from their moms when they’re very small. At any rate, I love all panda moms and think their devotion to their cubs is awesome. I also think that I think too much!

    I wish a Merry Christmas to zoo staff and volunteers (thanks for the update, Anastasia!), fellow blog contributors, and last but surely not least, Gao Gao, Bai Yun, Su Lin and Zhen Zhen. Warm panda hugs to all!

  7. Linda A. says:

    Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to SDZ staff, to all my pandaholic friends, and of course, our beloved “kids!”

    While weaning is sad for us humans, it is very exciting at the same time. Bai can transform from “mom” to “Hot Momma.” ZZ will learn to be own girl. And maybe we can look forward to another “Panda Tales” with a new baby panda.

    Thank you for the update! Now we’ll wait for an update on the cooler. What a “cool” Christmas present that would be! Another great gift would be that the ZA cam would continue.

  8. Bobbie Wood says:

    My goodness! Zhen Zhen is really high up in a tree right now! (9:45 on Christmas Eve morning) Having just read the article, I thought immediately of how High Su Lin would climb during the time right before weaning. I also remembered turning on the pandacam the morning that Su got to be alone for the first time. She was rapidly climbing up and down trees in the exhibit, and I’m sure, was speaking. I was quite startled by how fast she was moving that morning!

    I hope you all have the best Holiday ever! And I hope that you, your friends, and family all get to where you want to be in a timely manner! San Diego should receive real rain so perhaps you (and I) will be able to see the pandas playing in the rain on Christmas Day. Remember to check the panda-cam in between

    your festivities 🙂

  9. Stacy says:

    I have no doubt that our independent widdle Zhen will sail through weaning as easily as her big sister did. Thanks for letting us know…I’ve noticed a few subtle things with Bai and Zhen.

    #6 Melissa. Dr. Rebecca Snyder, Curator of Carnivores at Zoo Atlanta, is studying just such a question. Mei Lan is the third generation in her study, both her parents were part of the study (Lun separated early, while Yang stayed with his mother until 13 months). Most of the bears in the study are at Chengdu. If you go to ZA’s site, you can read about it.

    I’m always amazed at the time spent and dedication to research and education each zoo. I’ve learned so much from reading these blogs. Thanks to the scientists and researchers. Not as recognized as the keepers, but so very important to our dear bears!

  10. Margaret says:

    I wonder what Panda Claws will be up to tonight. Hopefully he will get to visit with Hua Mei and Mei Sheng in their new home in Bifengxia, as well as the pandas at the 4 US zoos and those in Europe too.

  11. Princess Zhen Zhen says:

    Where is Panda Claws?????

  12. Mary from Brooklyn says:

    That time is coming. Until then, we will enjoy the antics of Bai Yun and ZZ.

    To the bears, Bai, Gao, Su and Zhen (and Hua Mei and Mei Sheng in China), and to all their keepers, guides, researchers, interpreters and fellow pandaholics, the very best for the Holiday season and for a safe and secure 2009.

  13. Margaret says:

    One of Hua Mei’s first twins from 2005 finally arrived in Taiwan yesterday. Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan are on loan from China and will be in quarantine for 30 days. They are a highly explosive political topic in Taiwan, and hopefully that will not affect their life there. They have been waiting for their trip since 2005, and one or both of them temporarily “escaped” when the earthquake hit Wolong in May. They were quickly re”captured” and have been watched closely since then for any signs of physical or mental affects from the earthquake.

    Since their home in Taiwan has been ready for them for so long, hopefully the Taiwanese people will be happy they have finally arrived, and go visit them and appreciate them for their own natural beauty. They are lucky to get one of the first progeny from Hua Mei, with the special genes from Shi Shi and Bai Yun.

  14. Melissa says:

    #9 Stacy…Thanks for the info about the study that’s looking into the subject I inquired about. How exciting! The knowledge base for giant pandas keeps expanding, especially now that there are more bears to observe both here and in China. Lately I’ve been interested in the evolving research about socializing panda pairs prior to mating vs. the more old school, conventional approach. Owing to the fact that they’ve been endangered for so long (thus there being fewer pandas to observe, etc.) as well as the fact that they tend to be solitary in the wild, there is so much to learn about the enigmatic giant panda.

    I have a question for the moderator or anyone else who might be able to help me out…When is Gao Gao’s birthday officially celebrated? I know that his real birthday is unknown since he was born in the wild but does he have a special celebration on his SDZ arrival anniversary or has the celebration of the date of his rescue in China been continued or…something else? I’ve wondered for a while. I have a calendar with all of the U.S. pandas’ birthdays on it but haven’t known dear Gao Gao’s special day. Thank you for any info!

    Moderator’s note: Our panda keepers have decided to celebrate Gao’s birthday using his arrival-at-our-Zoo date of January 15 (2003). They will make sure to have a cake for him that day.

  15. Joy :) says:

    I had a nice Christmas Eve-Day lunch watching Bai and Zhen roam around in their enclosure. They really gave the Meerkats quite a work-out! It is such a JOY to see them interacting, especially since I am aware that their separation is coming soon. I am sure that Panda Claws will leave them all the nice gifts they deserve.

    to all the PandaFANatics out there:

    Merry Christmas!!!

    (a belated) Happy Hanukkah!!

    Blessed Kwanza!

    and Jolly Shopping (so I don’t leave the atheists out)

    Love, Joy 🙂

  16. Melissa says:

    Thanks to the moderator for the info about Gao Gao’s special day. It’s great to have a panda celebration coming so soon. 🙂

  17. Frances in NYC says:

    Wishing all the beautiful pandas and all their caretakers and all their fans a Merry and a Happy, whatever and however you celebrate the holiday season! Bamboo (and coolers), carrots, yams, and lots of apples, bags of sand, and new enrichment items (that’s toys to us) for all!!!

    Moderator’s note: As of 9 a.m. on Friday, December 26, over $98,000 has been donated toward the purchase of a new bamboo cooler for our pandas. Thanks again, everyone. We’re getting there!

  18. Pamela G says:

    I regret very much that, due to ill health, I can not write Sanda Claw’s Christmas poem this year. I am very sorry, as there were so many things for bears to decide this Christmas….should they give most of their gifts to the bears in Panda Home? Would Mei Sheng visit? Would Ya Ya and Le Le have to delay their Christmas visit? How would little Xi Lan deal with all the excitement?

    I’m hoping to recover some of the mental and physical abilities I once had. If I am that lucky,there will be another Sanda Claws story.

    Meantime, I wish all of you wonderful Panda fanatics a great Christmas and Peace and Joy during this season.

  19. Susan Harrison, Santa Clara, CA says:

    It is a joyous and sad occasion all in one! ZZ is growing up so fast before our eyes and Mei Sheng has been gone over a year. Thank God that He gave us ZZ, who is so sweet, loving, mishiveous, and entertaining, just like Mei Sheng was. Thank God for all the pandas! Bai Yun has been such an exception mom – hats off to her as well! Merry Christmas to all!

  20. Susan Harrison, Santa Clara, CA says:

    Margaret (#13) – I agree with you that Taiwan is so lucky and blessed to have Hua Mei’s eldest child. He is so very special, and I’m just so proud to say “I used to visit his mother while she was a cub/sub-adult in San Diego!” Can’t believe that Hua Mei is nine years old already. Bai Yun is a grandma, and Dong Dong is a great-grandma! Yikes, we are getting old here LoL! 🙂

  21. Melissa says:

    I had to check on all of the pandas this Christmas morning. Of course I have to check on pandas every morning so this morning is no different. They somehow feel like part of the family even though they’re far away.

    #9 Stacy…I was able to read the giant panda study that you referred to me. It covers a lot of interesting points. I was thinking more along the lines of a study that would investigate whether there are differences in how female pandas mother their cubs in relation to how the females/mothers themselves were raised (human-raised, peer-raised, raised by their own mothers for 18 or so months, or raised by their mothers for only a short period of time before they’re separated). For instance, would a female panda who was taken from her own mother at 4 months raise her cub(s) differently than a female panda who was with her mother for the 18 months that is the norm in the wild.

  22. Margaret says:

    Mery Christmas everyone!

    Great shots of Panda Christmas feasts for Gao Gao at SDZ and two separate pandas at NZP, and Xi Lan having a great nursing session at ZA. Glad to know that our black and white friends are enjoying their meals as much as we will enjoy ours. Hopefully the wild pandas have found new places with bamboo to sustain themselves after the devastation of the landslides from the earthquake.

    May the day soon come when there will be PEACE on Earth, good will toward all men, and an end of famine, disease and destruction.

  23. Linda A. says:

    How long can Gao sit and eat his boo???? Man, he can eat. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone!

  24. Maureen in Michigan says:

    Merry Christmas to all panda lovers -looks like the panda station is crowded with guests today.

    #18 Pamela G – our thoughts are with you – get better soon.

  25. Pam T says:

    # 18 Pamela G so sorry to hear you are having some health problems but it was great to hear from you. Hope this coming year brings you good health and happiness.

    Good to see the pandas are having a good Christmas day. Hope all their keeper are enoying the day also.

    Happy Holidays to all

  26. pandafan says:

    #18 Pamela G – I am so sorry to hear that you are not well. My thoughts and prayers go out to you; I hope you will soon feel well again. While we will miss Panda Claws this year, the archives hold the memory of the many we have enjoyed in the past. And we can be creative by substituting the current applicable bears to your stories. Take care of yourself and we hope you will let us, your fellow panda lovers, know how you are faring.

    A very Merry Christmas to all creatures great and small in God’s wonderful world!!! a special greeting to all panda lovers from the frigid Canadian north!! Brrrr!! the bears would love it here!! And, of course, a bouquet of Christmas wishes to all our beloved pandas, in all corners of the world!! I look forward to 2009 and all the panda adventures it will bring!!

  27. Bobbie Wood says:

    Dear Pamela G #18,

    I hope for you to have a well and healthy 2009. I am sorry to read that you have not been well. Please know that your prior poems have brought so much joy to all who have read/heard them, and we have been blessed by your creative work. We all want you to work on getting better!!!

  28. Lynne says:

    I just want to wish the San Diego Zoo staff, Bai Yun, sweet little Precious (Z.Z.), Su Lin and Gao Gao Merry “Panda-Mas”! You are all so wonderful and precious… words cannot express how precious you are! My heart aches at the thought of the possibility that our world could some day be without our dear pandas, I hope it never will be! Thanks to the San Diego Zoo and zoos all over for working so hard and tirelessly to keep these beautiful animals in this world that they belong in and deserve to be in 🙂

  29. Dawn in Michigan says:

    Pamela G…it’s good to see your name again on the blogs and I sincerely hope the New Year brings you back to health. We’ll miss Panda Claws this year, but that will give us something to look forward to next year as well.

    Merry Christmas to all the Pandaholics and a Safe and Happy New Year.

  30. Frances in NYC says:

    Linda #23, I think Gao Gao is in a class of his own when it comes to sustained bamboo consumption. He even chews in his sleep sometimes.

    Pamela G. #18–we’ll all be pulling for your recovery and look forward to your being able to carry on your tradition. I’m sure Panda Claws made his appointed rounds even though they weren’t so well chronicled as in years past.

    And to all another goodnight!

  31. Susan (UK) says:

    Pamela G #18. So sorry to hear you are not at your best, and hope that you will start to get better very soon.

    Margaret #22, I so agree with you. If enough of us work towards that goal then it will happen.

    Hope all the animals had a great day. No zoos open over here as far as I know on Christmas Day. SDZ is the first zoo I have met who does open on that day – good for you.

    Just off to check the time-lapse cam as I never got to look in yesterday, despite planning to. Hope you all had a great Christmas.

  32. pandafan says:

    Hello panda lovers!! Video alert – there is a very entertaining clip of our princess Zhennie on youtube called “Panda Bear Poses for Cameras”. It is very entertaining. Don’t miss it!

  33. Kris says:

    Pam (#18) – So sorry to hear you are ill. Best wishes for a quick and full recovery. While we missed your Panda Claws poem, your health is priority right now! I am so excited for Gao’s birthday celebration – it will be his very first!! I hope he loves his cake as much as he loves his boo!! Linda (#23) – maybe Gao’s boo eating ability can borrow a phrase from Toy Story – “To infinity and beyond!” 🙂

  34. Linda A. says:

    Pamela G., so sorry to hear you’re not feeling well. You know all your friends here are wishing every blessing, and a speedy recovery. Thank you for letting us!

    Xi has had another exciting morning being in one of the exhibit rooms in ZA. He’s moving around so well. How did that happen in just a few days? Here’s hoping a sponsor can be found for the cam!

    Our girls at SDZ are very busy this morning. What a delight to watch them.

    Hope everyone had a great day yesterday!

  35. Linda A. says:

    Could ZZ be any cuter in the video “Panda Bear Poses for Cameras?” Oh my gosh. She is so adorable. There’s a bunch of new Xi Lan videos; just sort by date. I can’t believe how mobile he’s become!

  36. Frances in NYC says:

    Great new videos–Miss ZZ gets cuter every day (is this even possible?). She and Bai Yun have been running up a storm this morning–working off a Christmas feast, perhaps? The cool weather? Whatever it is, they’re on the move!

  37. P Wong says:

    #18 Pamela G – I hope you feel better soon.

  38. Margaret says:

    Pamela G, I am very sad to hear that you are not well. May you be blessed with a return of good health and strength in 2009.

    Moderator, although Christmas is past, is it possible to reprint Panda Claws poem from 2007 for new and past readers to enjoy. It is very special and very meaningful to all of us. It is a tribute to Pamela G for her creativity and love of pandas around the world.

    Moderator’s note: The first Panda Claws poem was posted as comment #2 on the following blog from December 15, 2006:

    The second Panda Claws poem was posted as comment #24 on this blog from December 17, 2007:

  39. Suzanne (the other one) says:

    #18 Pamela G – I’m so sorry to hear that you haven’t been well and am sending best wishes for your full and speedy recovery. Thank you for the Panda Claus tales of the past, we look forward to more (when you are back to full health) in the future.

    Best wishes to all for a happy, healthy, panda filled 2009!

  40. Princess Zhen Zhen says:

    No panda claws???? No way!!! 🙁 🙁 :(I hope you feel better,Pamela.

  41. TAMI MICHAUD says:

    HI TO MY PANDA FAMILY (human and almost human)…IT’S BEEN A LONG TIME SINCE I SAID HI!!




  42. Kathi in Dallas says:

    I’ve followed the weaning process on all 4 babies and it just never seems to get any easier – on ME!! One would think I were being weaned from my own family member! I know it’s the natural thing to do and both Bai and Zhen will be better off, but it’s tough at first. These little loners somehow survive, though!

    So glad to hear the Zoo was able to buy the new bamboo cooler, gotta keep those big black and white tummy’s full! 🙂

    All my love and best wishes to our SDZ panda buddies and fellow pandaholics! Here’s to a healthy, prosperous ’09 – Happy New Year!