Zoo Outreach: Special Delivery!

Posted at 1:55 pm November 18, 2010 by Rachelle Marcon

Once a month I have the great honor of visiting the children’s ward at the Kaiser Permanente hospital in San Diego as part of the San Diego Zoo’s outreach program. It is truly a heartwarming experience for my colleagues and me. One month we had a great time and some extra help from our friend, Yvette McClain, who works in the Zoo’s Merchandising Department.

We prepare for each visit by collecting a number of items for a bedside activity bag to give to the children. Since we are a conservation organization, we decided to have themes that match the San Diego Zoo’s Top 10 conservation initiatives. This particular time our focus was on the giant panda. All of the children received a panda mug, a story book or journal, depending on the age, a few games, and special panda-themed items.

An African hedgehog makes an appearance.

After fellow educator Kimberly Carroll and I assembled the activity bags, we gathered up two very cute and touchable critters. These animals are special ambassadors from the Zoo that are trained to make help people make connections with wildlife. On this visit, a black fluffy rabbit named Darth Vader and a little African hedgehog named Thula were the ambassadors that accompanied us. After all of the goodies and critters were ready, we hopped into our hybrid vehicle and cruised on over to the hospital. Once we arrived, the hospital’s child life specialist greeted us and escorted us to each room for a visit.

As you can imagine, every kid enjoys meeting a fluffy rabbit, and Darth is great at sitting quietly to be petted. Thula, the hedgehog, wiggled her nose and rolled into a ball, much to the children and parent’s delight. Yvette was thrilled to see the happy smiles when she handed out panda plushes. One infant was given a panda rattle, and a little toddler squealed with glee when Yvette gave her a panda chime ball.

When it was finally time to go and all the goodies are given away, we headed back to the Zoo. However, we had a smile on our heart and a happy thought that we were able to bring a little bit of pandas and the Zoo to these special children.

Rachelle Marcon is an educator at the San Diego Zoo.

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34 Responses to “Zoo Outreach: Special Delivery!”

  1. Kathy in CT says:

    It is said that animals have a special place in the healing process. Little ones, who are hospitalized, are so taken by these types of gestures. I didn’t know about the Outreach part of SDZ. Is there a funding piece for these critter excursions and gifts that the zoo so lovingly provides?

    Moderator’s note: Let me find out and I’ll post a response.

  2. Mary from Brooklyn says:

    Wonderful story and project. Thanks for what you do.

  3. Deborah M. Brewer says:

    Thank you for sharing that story, that give me a very happy though too!! I believe all of us from the Black and White Overnight met Thula the Hedgehog also, great critter!!

  4. Carol Gabrielson says:

    Love this…..as a former Kaiser employee in Northern Ca., I REALLY love this blog. Animals are truly great therapy, and the little Pediatric patients love it when they can see and touch them. Thanks for a great gesture on behalf of SDZ. Good job!

  5. Tania Spivey says:

    Is there any out reach program for the families at Fisher House just down the road from the Zoo. That is where families stay while their service members are in Balboa Hospital or the VA hospital. When you are away from home and family support a friendly smile can go a long way

    Moderator’s note: I’ll find out.

  6. Lee in Vancouver says:

    Wonderful blog Rachelle. I have been a volunteer at our local hospital for many years and know the children benefit from your visits and gifts. What a wonderful experience for them to see the animals up close.

    To Danielle, NY #95 of previous post. You asked for a picture of Ba Si at the SDZ. I posted one at Panda-fandom Worldwide on facebook. Just go to photos and it is on page 7, top row, 2nd from the right. It is from the SD Zoo Book, 1987 edition. It shows the keeper in the cage also getting Ba Si to stand up.

  7. Annie Panda says:

    Thank you for sharing Rachelle! It sounds like the children had a great time, that’s so cool how they got all of those panda items and got to see the hedgehog and rabbit!

    Anyway, hope all the pandas are well and I am so excited to hear that Lun’s cub is a BOY!!!!

    Peace, Love and Pandas CIAO!

    Annie Panda 🙂

  8. lj says:

    that is a wonderful story and if there is a way to donate to this special cause please let me know. I would love to be part of that experience, even if not in person.

    San Diego Zoo responds: Thank you, lj and #1 Kathy in CT. Our Zoo Outreach programs provided to Kaiser Hospital would not be possible without the wonderful generosity of individual and foundation donors. If you would like to learn more about how you can support this enriching program, please contact Kelly Craig at (619) 744-3328 or kcraig@sandiegozoo.org. She would be happy to hear from you.

  9. Lucilla in Singapore says:

    Dear Rachelle,

    How wonderful! I want to go next time! Can I please please please? Mama will be ok with it, I think. I will let all the children pet me and I will teach them about pannas. I would love to hewp the children get better as I am a child too. Can I, huh?

    Thank you.

    Yours Sincerely,

    Yun Zi, the son of Bai Yun and Gao Gao

  10. Lisa in Colorado says:

    Heartwarming! I wish these kids good health. I hope they grow up to be conservationists or support conservation efforts.

  11. Chari Mercier says:

    Hi! Just read your article about your outreach program, and it ia a great program that will bring kids and people closer to animals when they can’t leave the hospital because of their illnesses. Keep this program going because it is needed!

    Just got on the AZ website’s panda page, missed getting back on their pandacam, but read their update they had written for today. The AZ panda keepers and vets had an exclusive visit from The Early Show on CBS this morning, and there they were holding this very cute, adorable, tiny panda cub in their hands with closeups! Then, they made the announcement that Lun’s cub is a boy! If you all are interested in watching the entire video of this interview at AZ, log onto the CBS website, click on Shows, then click on The Early Show, and you will find a list of videos from today’s programs (Nov. 18), one of them is the video about the cub. Enjoy, you all!

    Chari Mercier 🙂

    St. Pete, FL

  12. Jeslyn in San diego says:

    I saw the new baby boy at the Zoo Atlanta on the Good Morning America show today.

    Live with keepers holding it in their hands. Seems to be a chubby baby but still has eyes closed but getting his fur.

  13. lu says:

    What a great thing you do around SD, I only wish I could live closer. It really warms my heart when you

    read of Zoo’s or other groups do something like this for our children. It makes me feel great and warm.

    I know these children will remember this for the rest of there lives. Thank you for all you give.’


  14. Bamboo Britney says:

    I did a post on my blog (pandafanaticsunite (dot) blogspot (dot) com) about “Wei Lan”.

  15. Danielle, NY says:

    #98 barbara from previous blog – Thanks very much, I actually already knew the story of Ba Si and I had seen the pictures of her 25th birthday. I am glad they did not bring the crown this year. I saw an article about Ba Si’s rescue published this year with an illustration of her rescue news(dot)xinmin(dot)cn/domestic/gnkb/2010/11/10/7607163.html

    Ba Si was very close to death when she was rescued, weighing only 30 lbs, even though it was estimated that she was three and a half year old. I believe most cubs have reached that weight when they are 6 month old.

    #6 Lee in Vancouver – Thanks very much for the picture of Ba Si, I was hoping for a more “natural” picture… Standing like that, she did not even look like a panda!!


    I am very happy that the time of training pandas as if they were circus animals is over, that we try to keep them as close as possible to their natural way of life. And the day when their natural habitat will have been restored enough that many pandas can be returned to the wild can not come soon enough. I really hope I will see that day, but I know it will not be easy, will take a lot of effort and resources, but we owe it to the pandas. By the way I know the song “Last Panda” mentioned in the comments below the picture you posted. It is from 1994 and I am glad things turned out better than that…

  16. Janan says:

    Wonderful post and I am so pleased that the Panda’s make the sick children smile!

  17. Danielle, NY says:

    While we are overjoyed with one newborn panda cub in Atlanta, there was another article with many pictures of the seven pandas born in Chengdu in 2010. blog(dot)sina(dot)com(dot)cn/s/blog_49246d360100mwgg.html The total numbers of cubs listed is 10, as the cubs born in Madrid and Atlanta “belong” to Chengdu.

    The debut for the Wolong’s cubs listed 16 cubs born at BiFengXia, but I counted only 14 on the pictures, and they listed a total of 19, 2 were born in Beijing, but one died, and 1 was born in Vienna (Even though Vienna reported 2 born but only one survived).


    In that article there is also some info about the end of Su Lin and Zhen Zhen quarantine and the fact that they will be moving to a new home, but the translation from Google is not clear to me… I came across this article written in English, with an audio, about news of the foreign born pandas moving to new houses today in the “Paradise for Overseas-Born Pandas” in BiFengXia, including Su Lin and Zhen Zhen, I hope we will soon get more info as well as pictures. english(dot)peopledaily(dot)com(dot)cn/90001/90776/90882/7205181.html

    You can see a nice color picture of the cub born in Vienna on www(dot)zoovienna(dot)at/news/neuigkeiten-rund-um-das-pandajunge/

    You still have a few days to vote for his name, at the present time Fu Hu (“Happy Tiger”) is leading.

    I also came across an article about Ba Si’s 30th birthday with many beautiful pictures of this grand lady. The article mentions that Ba Si is suffering from eye diseases, but I did not understand what it might be or what caused it. I noticed that her eyes have an unusual reflection; I just hope she is not blind. blog(dot)sina(dot)com(dot)cn/s/blog_49246d360100mx21.html

  18. kathy from canada says:

    News of the girls this morning out of BFX on their website! Their new home is ready, they will be living in a new home with Hua Mei, Mei Sheng, Tai Shan and Fu Long if I read it right. Six separate rooms/yards of course but all together in one special area! They are moving in today!!

  19. Lee in Vancouver says:

    SDZ Staff: You outdid yourselves with the new and improved panda yards. I’m watching Bai Yun and Yun Zi right now and they love the soil you put in the cave. We are going to have very happy, dirty pandas for awhile. They love the dirt almost as much as they love Snow Day. Thank you so much. It was well worth the wait.

  20. Linda / NorCal says:

    How very cool. Thanks for sharing such a lovely story. Giving is so important; well done.

    And what a beautiful enclosure for Bai and Yun Zi. It was so fun to watch Bai acting like a teenager, and Yunni being Yunni. Good, good job on the enclosure; it’s gorgeous. Question…….is the wind blowing this morning? The cam was “moving.”

  21. Bobbie Wood says:

    Oh, ho, ho! The renovations are completed! Bai And Yun Zi are having a ball exploring and climbing this morning! Bai is muddy 🙂 The green grass is gorgeous! Visitors are in for a treat! Thank you SDZ for all you do!

  22. Frances in NYC says:

    The outreach program sounds fantastic. Nothing like pandas to cheer you up!

    It’s moving day all over in pandaland! Gao Gao seems unperturbed, happily chowing down on his pile of boo and Bai and Yunnie are playing and getting really dirty in their newly redecorated area. Good job, SDZ landscapers!

    There’s also some news (but not nearly enough pictures) that Su Lin and Zhennie are out of quarantine and into their new enclosures in China. Can’t wait for more info about them.

    Danielle #17–I wonder if Basi has cataracts? Her eyes do have a glazed look–I believe this is fairly common in older pandas? She has certainly led a remarkable life–being rescued when she was young, and didn’t she have surgery fairly recently for digestive issues? So glad she looks so well and has such a dedicated keeper.

  23. lj says:

    The new homes are WONDERFUL. It was so much fun watching Bai playing like a young cub 🙂 and watching Yunnie running in and out of the cam view was so much fun, hes loving his….no I correct myself, they both are loveing their new digs. And Gao Gao seems to be enjoying his new area as well. The new enrichments will keep them all busy for a long time 🙂

    thank you to all the people who built and spent time designing and putting the new exhibits together.

    I am very happy to hear some news on our girls. I hope the other panda neighbors will welcome them with open arms. Maybe now we will have an oppertunity for more pictures. This is a good day for all pandas and panda lovers 🙂

  24. Chloe says:

    In case you all hadn’t seen it, the panda cub in Atlanta on the CBS morning show.
    tinyurl (dot) com/cbspandaatlanta

  25. Fonsia says:

    #17 and 18 Danielle and Kathy, thank you so much for the news about our girls! At last! We can only hope for photos and video soon!

    I still can’t believe that our girls were handled so differently from the other bears who moved to China. Our girls didn’t get their own American keeper to travel the whole way with them, and to stay with them for a day or two, as did the other bears, with no explanation why.

    They had to stay in quarantine for two months instead of one, with no explanation why and very little news about them.

    We still haven’t had a blog from the SDZ folks who traveled with them on the first leg of their trip.

    But finally, perhaps, we can find out more about our cherished girls. I’m delighted that they’ll be near the other “foreign” bears. Tourists, at least, will be posting video, surely.

    At last! Welcome home, Su and Zhennie!

  26. Helen in Washington DC says:

    How fun to see Gao, Bai & Yun Zi enjoying their newly redecorated yards! Great job everyone at SDZ!

    Re new homes for Su & ZZ, their neighbors include Hua Mei & Mei Sheng, as well as Tai Shan. The area is now designated for “foreign” born pandas. So Su & ZZ are near their family. 🙂

    Thanks for the blog on the outreach program. All the blogs are informative &/or educational & entertaining.

  27. Helen in Washington DC says:

    Moderator, meant to ask for gentle reminder to folks who need to change the panda cam numbers now that Gao, Bai & Yun Zi have been moved back – when they have time. Bai & Yun Zi are having a great time right now too!

    Moderator’s note: Thanks for the reminder. The Panda Cam numbers have now been updated.

  28. Helen in Washington DC says:

    Thank you, Moderator.

  29. lj says:

    boy, there hasnt been much sleep today, busy checking out all their new things.

  30. Moderator says:

    #5 Tania

    Fisher House sounds like the perfect place for our Zoo Express outreach program. Someone from that team will be contacting you for more information.

  31. kat wilson says:

    Rachelle, thank you for your story of visiting the children at Kaiser, and how perfect a time to do this with Thanksgiving around the corner. It’s such a nice feeling in one’s heart to share and see smiles and joy in those with illness or just less fortunate. A beautiful gesture on SD Zoo’s part, indeed.

    Sorry I missed all the fun and excitement this morning with the move-in to the newly deco’d digs, work always seems to get in the way, harumph!!! All that hard work really paid off, with the gao family enjoying it so! I will peek in tomorrow morning, I’m sure the newness won’t be worn off yet…

    I hope Zhennie girl and Su Lin will be just as happy with their new apartments… it’s time for them to settle into permanence and really relax, I know we will….

    Love to all creatures great and small. ox

  32. Ruth from Austria says:

    Rachelle, what a great job you and your colleagues did! I am sure that all the kids at the hospital were so excited to see the critters personally. And what a treat to be given panda toys. They will certainly speed up the healing process.

    #17 Danielle and #18 Kathy Nice to hear about “our girls” Zhen Zhen and Su Lin and particularly that they are doing well in their new surroundings. Thanks for the info.

  33. Diana S says:

    Thank you for this post, Rachelle. What a wonderful, heartwarming story! How could any small child not be touched by our pandas?! We just keep learning more and more about what a wonderful place the SDZ really is and all you caring people!!!!

  34. Yvette Mcclain says:

    I had a great time and want to go again!!!!!!!Please!!!!!!!Those children were great.:~)