China Trip Diary: Part 3

Posted at 11:11 am December 6, 2010 by Gaylene Thomas

Giant pandas Su Lin and Zhen Zhen moved to Wolong, China on September 24, 2010. Gaylene accompanied them on their journey and is sharing the trip with us through blog installments. Be sure to read China Trip Diary: Part 2.

I have decided that flying with a giant panda is the way to go! Fifteen hours go by very quickly when you have a two incredible pandas to visit with and take care of. Zhen Zhen and Su Lin were troupers throughout the journey. The “What ifs” and worries of what might happen were subdued by the natural behaviors these two young pandas demonstrated in conditions far from routine. The dedicated daily care given to Su Lin and Zhen Zhen, combined with the wonderful travel training efforts provided by the keepers, set this journey up to be a success!

The plane landed in Shanghai at 7:30 a.m. (Shanghai time). Chinese officials boarded the plane to check on Su Lin and Zhen Zhen and to review permits. Tracy and I parted from the pandas to make our way through Customs. We then were driven back to the cargo section of the airport to rejoin Su Lin and Zhen. They were both awake and observing their new surroundings.

The pandas are checked by Bi Feng Xia's vet and keeper. Due to rain, the panda crates and supplies were loosely covered in plastic.

Tracy and I met with Wu Honglin and Wei Ming (veterinarian and keeper from Bi Feng Xia). I was convinced that Su Lin and Zhen were in good hands for the remainder of their journey. Tracy donated the medical equipment she packed to Wu Honglin for use at Bi Feng Xia and gave him a large envelope full of medical, diet, and husbandry information on the girls. I handed over the behavior training DVD of Zhen and Su Lin to Wei Ming; researchers had worked with keepers to document the cues and behaviors trained to Su Lin and Zhen Zhen. I also presented a bag full of clickers, the hand-held audio signal used by trainers worldwide to communicate to an animal that the response given was what the trainer had hoped for.

There was a quick photo session behind a welcoming banner with Su Lin, Zhen Zhen, Tracy, me, Wu, Wei, and airline executives…and then we parted. The goodbye was a bit abrupt due to the fact that the next flight for Su Lin and Zhen Zhen was crucial to get them to their destination without a major delay, and there was little time to spare.

From left: Veterinarian Wu, Gaylene, Tracy, and Keeper Wei

Despite my disorientation of real time, I calculated the flight time for Su Lin and Zhen Zhen to Chengdu, the ground travel time from Chengdu to Bi Feng Xia, and allowed for a two-hour window of error to determine when to begin asking Peter if Zhen and Su arrived without any problems. At approximately 7:30 p.m. Shanghai time, Peter informed Tracy and me that Su Lin and Zhen Zhen had safely arrived at Bi Feng Xia. It was time to celebrate and sleep!

There was a significant void when I returned to work. Daily, I passed by the empty exhibits of where Zhen Zhen and Su Lin had resided. News of their successful adjustment in China was comforting, but still their unique behaviors and habits were missed. I’m sure the sensitivities of Su Lin and the antics of Zhen Zhen are being appreciated by their new keepers! And, as years go by, perhaps we will hear stories of success, just as we have heard about Hua Mei and her eighth cub, born this year!

As keepers, trainers, researchers, supervisors, and veterinarians, we build a bond and can become attached with the animals we care for. To limit the animals we work with to our selfish bond would be an insult to the plight of their species. With a big lump in our throat, and often tears in our eyes, we bid farewell to the animals we have grown fond of for the ultimate cause of conservation!

Gaylene Thomas is an animal care supervisor at the San Diego Zoo.

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45 Responses to “China Trip Diary: Part 3”

  1. Vicki from IA says:

    Thank you so much for this blog, I couldn’t agree with you more….

    “With a big lump in our throat, and often tears in our eyes, we bid farewell to the animals we have grown fond of for the ultimate cause of conservation!”

  2. Susan in NJ says:

    {{Gaylene}} and everyone else who loved and cared for Su Lin and Zhennie. Thank you so much for your posts on the girls in China an sharing your journey with us. I can’t imagine how hard it was to adjust to their absence.

    Do you have any recent news of how the girls are doing in China or any pictures to share with us?

    Moderator’s note: We hope to have an update on the girls posted some time this week.

  3. Cindy Ferguson says:

    Dear Gaylene,

    A very special thanks to you and Tracy for taking such good care of the girls. They’ve been so special to my husband and me since they were born, and we were lucky to visit them a few times. I especially love SuLin.

    I’m sorry you have such sadness now, and I share in that sadness. Please let us know how they do in China.


  4. lj says:

    Gaylene, thank you for sharing this journey with all of us. If I can get so attached by only knowing them from the panda cam for a short period of time, I can’t even imagine what you and the rest of the staff must have felt and still feel. I applaud you all for what you do with the animals and conservation. Without this none of us would be able to enjoy these wonderful and beautiful creatures. Keep up the GOOD work!!

  5. Linda Hathaway says:

    I read with much interest all three parts of China Trip diary. It is so great the two pandas made the trip without any problems. As with Gaylene Thomas, I too have tears in my eyes because they left before I could visit in person myself. I live in Wisconsin and I am saving up for a trip to Southern California. It is great for their species that they can now take their place in China having babies. We got to know them at least for a little while.

  6. Bamboo Britney says:

    Panda Alert: Su Lin is enjoying herself in her trees, I wonder if Zhennie has gotten to her acro-bat antics again. Hopefully, they will put up a webcam for Zhennie, Su Lin, Mei Sheng. 😀

    pandanews (dot) wordpress (dot) com/2010/11/20/bi-feng-xia-mei-sheng-su-lin-zhen-zhen-tai-shan/#more-2535

  7. Danielle, NY says:

    If you want to read more about Cao Cao’s cub latest health exam and about him being picked up by humans disguised as pandas, go to www(dot)pandas(dot)fr/ click on the “Google Translate” icon and open the latest news from December 6. The young cub did not look all that comfortable with those big strange “pandas” and it reminded me of a blog about Yun Zi’s encounter with a yellow monster!! Even though Heidi “didn’t want to scare the black off of him”… Poor little cubs…

  8. Susan, PA says:

    I was doing good till this post now this one has me in tears. Yun Zi was my first but in the year watching him I got to

    know the girls and was lucky enough to vist them 2 times. Zhun Zhun I only saw 1 time and she was sleeping in the

    tree but Su Lin I saw 2 times the last was the day before the girls left she was eating and got some great pictures

    so glad to have had the year to get to know the girls. I am not looking forward to when Yun Zi goes but we have some time

    I hope. I am looking forward to seeing in Bai Yun has another cubby if we are lucky enough may I can talk my husband in

    taking 1 more trip I would alsi love to see Gao Gao for the first time. Thank you for all the good work you all do for the


  9. Kathy in CT says:

    I think our pandas and the bonds they weave within our hearts bring us a deep sense of peace that so many with never know or feel. This little piece of my life, which most don’t know of, provides an emotionally beautiful balance to my day. For that I am extremely thankful. Keep up the ultra superb efforts, Team SDZ!!!!!!

  10. Lucilla in Singapore says:

    ‘Son, what are you doing?’ asked Bai Yun a little alarmed by the noise coming from the hammock.

    ‘I am packing, Mama,’ replied Yun Zi as he was stuffing a back pack with bamboo cake and apple treats, his tooth brush and his framed photo of Mama and Papa.

    ‘Ahem, and where are you going?’

    ‘Mama, I am going to join the research team and go to China to do a documentary on giant pandas. I am going to anchor the show. AND I will learn lots of things to hewp panda research. They wanted a panda as who else will understand pandarese and be able to interpret the data well.’

    ‘And did it occur to you to ask permission from your Mama and Papa, hmmm?’

    ‘I did, I asked Papa and he said it was OK!’

    ‘He did, did he? Hmmm…’

    ‘Yup, and he asked me to send my regards to Hua Mei, Mei Sheng, Su Lin and Zhen Zhen.’

    ‘Did he ask you to ask me also?’ Bai Yun’s voice was now pure ice.

    ‘Errrrr, dont remember, maybe…..but I figured you’d be OK with it, right?……HEWP, Mama, what are you doing……HEWP, Nooooooo, not the pool!’

    Bai Yun takes Yun Zi by the scruff and dumps him into the pool. Then she picks him up and sits on him. When she releases him, he stands up feeling sheepish.

    ‘Mama, can I go on this expedition?’

    ‘Son, you are too young. I am still nursing you. Wait till you are older like Tai Shan or Fu Long. When you are 3, you will be stronger. There will be other opportunities….’

    ‘But Mama, I wanna hewp hoomans understand pandas….’ a tear falls from his eyes.

    ‘But you are helping. By being here. Hundreds of hoomans come to the zoo and the zoo teaches the hoomans. Researchers at the zoo are observing us and testing us so we are helping. OK, darling.’

    Bai Yun hugs her little baby boy who has a huge heart.

    ‘OK, Mama,’ sniffs Yunnie.

  11. Frances in NYC says:

    Danielle #7–those certainly were strange-looking “pandas” in those pictures–and I’m afraid Cao Cao’s little cub will forever be wondering where his mom put those funny blue plastic crates he was being carried around in.

    I too only knew Zhennie and Su via pandacam and I know how much their leaving affected me–I am in total sympathy with anyone who was lucky enough to work with them who must be missing them sooo much.

    Cannot wait to hear more–and hopefully see more–about the girls!

  12. Frances in NYC says:

    Lucilla–your surgery hasn’t affected your writing. Your latest story is so sweet!

  13. lu says:

    I like the rest of the fans, cried alittle on the last of the trip. I can imagine how you must a felt when you

    had to leave them. I have watch yunnie grow since he was born, and I have seen him twice. So I know

    how I will be when he has to leave for china. But will be at his home a few more times before that happens

    Gaylene thank you so much for a nice report. My heart goes out to you, sending the girls off to a new

    adventure, but still missing them. Their are our kids.

    Thanks to SDZ for the love and care of all the animals there, it shows when you see them interact with all

    of the keeper.


  14. Annie Panda says:

    Thanks Gaylene for Part 3! I miss the girls, I am so glad they had a great flight and everything, they grew up SO fast!! Hopefully they’re doing well. How often does the SDZ get updates on them from China??

  15. lindaluvspandas says:

    Thank you so much for the post. I truly miss the girls also, but I am sure it is nothing compared to how you feel. No matter how you would try to fight attachment, I think it is impossible. I am glad the trip went so well thanks to all of your efforts at the SDZ. These girls are so special and the training and care that they received from all of you I am sure is what made this journey a success.

    Fellow bloggers – has there been any pictures of the girls anywhere since they have been out of quarantine? I have not seen any although I search.

    Thank you so much to all at SDZ for all the care you give these special bears and all the animals in your care. Thank you moderator for all your comments and information gathering. You guys are the best!

  16. Margaret says:

    Thanks for sharing the journey with us, Gaylene. We are glad you and the girls reached your destinations safely. Now you will be busy with Yun Zi’s upcoming weaning, and the possibility of yet another cub in 2011.

  17. Amanda says:

    Thank you Gaylene for sharing your journey with us and for the wonderful care these 2 beautiful girls received while they were at the SDZ.

    Tonight I was watching Lin Ping in the outdoor garden/exhibit. LP climbed up a tree today. Despite having a barrier wrapped around the tree to prevent her from climbing she managed to reach above it and climb up the tree. Once she got up high enough she tried to come back down. She couldn’t come down and after a few minutes of trying she appeared to panic. After some anxious moments she found a way to slide down. 3 of her keepers were at the bottom of the tree, perhaps to catch her (?) if she fell. She was o.k though and they comforted her for a few minutes before taking her inside.

  18. Annie Panda says:

    I just found out there is a play called “The Revenge of the Space Pandas”

    I’m so excited…

  19. Marilyn in California says:

    I can’t imagine how Su Lin and Zhen Zhen coped being in unfamiliar surroundings with unfamiliar people. But we all want them to be happy and to succeed in China. Others have made that transition successfully so I hope for the best for them too.

  20. Susan(UK) says:

    Gaylene, your adventures with ZZ and Su Lin has been wonderful to read. I am so glad they are doing well, I do miss them.

    Lucilla, as usual your stories are stunning and I look forward to reading them.

    There is a Natural World Special – Panda Makers on at 8pm (UK time) on BBC2. David Attenborough has spent 2 years at Chengdu following the pandas. One not to miss. Set your videos for 12 noon SDZ time. There is the cutest picture in my TV magazine of a teeny panda.

  21. Susan(UK) says:

    I just thought – can you receive BBC2 via satellite? I do hope so.

  22. Weegee says:

    Dianna, Ohio (According to your curiosity from previous blog)

    The 2 tubular type food items on sticks you asked are frozen bamboo and frozen apple, they put water and bamboo leaves and apple slices in each bamboo section then froze them. After chopping the bamboo apart, you would get the thin bamboo skin wrapping around the popsicle….The final result after giving them to the pandas, CC enjoy his frozen bamboo less than LH enjoyed her frozen apple….^__^

    About the peacock, he is a wild peacock that has been taking over the panda outdoor exhibit for quite sometimes. Pandas at CMZ will allow being outside only a month or two during the winter depend on the temperature. The rest of the year the peacock owns the place…HaHa…. (^-^)

    Here is a clip for those of you who may wonder what Dianna and I talking about. Watch it carefully from 4.03m, you’ll see LH’s on her guard ready to charge the peacock….

    Today Ah Ping had proved that what goes up will come down. Let’s check her out;

  23. Diane Lincoln, Ca. says:

    Thank you Gaylene for your three part diary of your trip to China to return the pandas that we all adored.

    Trust that we will get posts on their new home and stories how they are adjusting to chinese language.

  24. Bobbie Wood says:

    Thank you for documenting the adventures of the trip to China! The teamwork was tremendous! The last sentence brought tears to my eyes. Su Lin and Zhen Zhen went from Good Hands to Good Hands!

    To all: RyokoPanda 123 has several new videos of Bai and Yun Zi! Here is a link to one of them:

  25. kat wilson says:

    Dear Gaylene, God bless you. I envy the unique experience you were chosen for, but at the same time, the sadness was and probably still remains unbearable at times, a hundred fold to what we have felt from afar (tho I did get a chance to see my Zhennie before she left). The reminder of working where our girls were everyday since they were born…you are truly a hero to me, Gaylene, thank you for taking such good care of my girl, and Su, too, of course. I still have a screen shot of when Zhennie first came to us….Bai looking down in amazement! I will forever treasure this photo, and right next to it is one of Little Cloud, same moment!

    Love and peace and respect to all animals on this planet.

  26. Frances in NYC says:

    lindaluvspandas #15–see the pix in the link that Bamboo Britney posted in #6. They’re about the only pictures that have come out after their quarantine.

  27. Peggy says:

    Thank you for the blog. It is always fascinating to read about the journey of our pandas and knowing that they made it safely to China.

    I just got the chance to look at the video for the “sprucing” up of the enclosures. What a beautiful job. It looks so inviting and obviously Bai and our Yunior love it. I can’t wait to get the chance to come down and see it and them in person. Kudos to the staff, you’ve done an outstanding job.

  28. barbara says:

    I just read a article in todays New York Post about a 4 month old panda being prepared for the wild. The keepers are dressed in panda outfits as to not imprint any human contact on the baby. the keepers remove the baby from a secluded fenced in area. to have lab work and physicals done all in costume,They have hidden cameras that allow them to monitor the baby. They also mention Xiang Xiang that died after being released. Because of daunting odds they are trying ways to release captive bred pandas into the wild.Nothing was mentioned about the mother. to me this seems a little young to be alone. The photos show the keepers in costume checking the baby. The look on the babys face is precious, like he’s trying to figure out who or what they are.

  29. Linda / NorCal says:

    Ahhh, thank you again for your well written account of your journey with our girls. Tough for all of us……..can’t imagine what it was like for you. And thank you for taking such good care of our girls. Yes, they will always be our girls.

  30. Dianna from Ohio says:

    Gaylene: Did you and your crew return immediately to SDZ? How did that make you feel with gaining/losing time so quickly? Talk about jet lag…

    What a wonderful memory you have now… Thanks for all the updates.

  31. Mary from Brooklyn says:

    barbara #28 – the cub’s mother is Cao Cao. Check both of them out on Pandas Live On or at Pandas International websites.

  32. Danielle, NY says:

    I found a Chinese blog today with plenty of pictures of Mei Lan, quite a few showing her high up in a tree, she looks really happy and relax.


  33. Danielle, NY says:

    #69 Margaret from previous blog – You are welcome. Did you see Ba Si when she was at the San Diego Zoo in 1987 or did you see her in China?

  34. Danielle, NY says:

    For those of you interested in the twin male cubs from the Madrid Zoo, Jeroen has now posted all the articles about his visit at the Zoo, 5 articles, one for each day. www(dot)giantpandazoo(dot)com/panda/

    He has also put 472 pictures that he took at the Zoo in Madrid on Flickr!!

  35. Karen says:

    Thank you Gaylene for Part 3. I am glad that Su Lin and Zhen Zhen are settling in and that they are happy. Cannot wait to see pictures of them. Did you stay in China for a while to make sure the girls were all settled in?

  36. Mary from Brooklyn says:

    Gaylene — thank you so much for your story. I simply cannot imagine how painful it must have been to hand the girls over to BFX, even knowing that they would be well loved and cared for. Our group was at BFX while they were in quarantine, but of course, they were not receiving visitors. Also saw their new yards and was very impressed with the amount of space and trees they would have. They must be extremely happy campers! And I am so glad Mei Sheng got his own yard and has hopefully found his very special tree to hang out on. It will also be really nice for Hua Mei to have spacious digs of her own. (Because of new motherhood, she was not receiving visitors when we were there.)

    The SDZ staff has done an amazing job with the pandas (and the other animals) in its care. The pandas have such unique personalities. Thank you so much for all of your efforts.

    (This is the first time to try to write without tears streaming — it has almost worked.)

    As someone else has said, Peace, love and pandas!

  37. Lucilla in Singapore says:

    ‘Mama, can you hewp me?’

    ‘With what? I am doing my facial right now.’

    ‘Its OK, I just need your ideas. I am preparing an instruction manual for Xi Lan’s baby brother, for Aunty Zuiba’s twins and maybe my baby brother next year. This manual will teach them how to make their debuts.’

    ‘OK, Yunnie, Mama is listening…’

    ‘OK, OK, these are the main points….

    Point One: Smile and wave to all the unkas and aunties. Many have come from faraway to see you.

    Point Two: Dont be frightened by the lights! The sudden flashes help the hoomans take nice pictures with the magic boxes.

    Point Three: Stay near Mama. Mama knows best and will help you.

    ‘You betcha Mama knows best,’ grins Bai Yun under her mask.

    Point Four: Play with the flowers and leaves. It helps make you look cuter.

    Point Five: Make sure you have Mama clean you before your debut otherwise it is so embarrassing.

    Point Six: Dont try to climb trees yet as you are not strong enough yet and you will fall. Sometimes you will feel an ouchie on your tushie. If you have a bad fall, the hoomans in blue will give you an ouchie. Not nice.

    Point Seven:

    ‘Point Seven: always listen to your Mama and Papa and all will be well!

    ‘Hahaha, Mama, I was gonna say keep your Approw phone next to you so you can call for hewp.’


    ‘Only kidding, Mama! Luv you! And thanks for your hewp.’

  38. Lucilla in Singapore says:

    ‘What are you doing now Yunnie?’

    ‘Mama, Pandazine, the new Panda magazine has sent me some questions to answer.’

    ‘Can Mama hear your answers?’

    ‘OK. Here goes:

    Nickname: Yunior, Prince Fluffy Butt, Yunnie, Y Guy, and Mama, is it OK if I dont tell them about yours and Papa’s baby name for me?

    ‘OK, that is private between us.’

    Favourite colours: Black and White. Hee Hee Hee.

    Favourite Pastimes: Sleeping, Playing with Mama, Talking to Papa, Playing online games with Xi Lan, Hewping Hoomans understand Pandas, Dancing and Singing, Making pewple happy.

    Dislikes: Sharpies, hoomans who want to kill animals, water, being separated from my jie jies.

    Favourite Words: WOWIE, Love

    Favourite Childhood Memory: Being held and nursed by Mama

    Favourite Cartoon Character: Uncle Po

    Favourite Fruit: Apple

    Future Plans: Learn to eat Boo properly. Become an Eco-warrior to teach hoomans how to help with conservation. AND also find a nice Panda girl to start a family.

    ‘Please add a Panda girl approved by Mama and Papa,’ Bai Yun injects quietly.

    ‘OK, Mama.’

  39. Ruth from Austria says:

    Gaylene, thank you so much for the 3 part diary of your journey to China. It must have been some relief to you to safely hand over Su Lin and Zhen Zhen into good hands. However, I can just picture the abrupt fare well when you had to part with your “babies”. When reading the third part of your diary I felt very emotional. Having been able to view the two girls on panda cam for the last years I am pretty sure that it was rather hard for you to leave Su and Zhen behind in a foreign land despite being the land of their ancestors. One has to come to terms with the fact that they have returned to China for a good purpose. But as a keeper who had daily contact with the pandas it must be heart-breaking not to see them any more. Thank you for taking such wonderful care of Su Lin and Zhen Zhen. These two pandas will always have a special place in my heart. May be Yun Zi will ease your sore heart a bit. I am looking forward to hearing more news about “our” girls in China.

  40. Pandafan#2 says:

    Thanks so much! I love the Zoo Atlanta cam, because I get to see a cubbie! The National Zoo cam is very nice, too! I’m so glad for all your suggestions. It’s so much fun seeing all these pandas. Wee Lan is awesome!

  41. Pandafan#2 says:

    Is that the end of the China Trip Diary?

    Moderator’s note: Yes.

  42. Cindy says:

    Thank you so much for sharing with us. Your experience with these pandas is truly amazing. Your work is so important and beneficial to their existence. I couldn’t finish the story without crying but they were tears of joy. We know that they will go on and that they are in good hands.

  43. Shirley Williamson says:

    Thank you Gaylene for telling us all about how the girls made out, and that they reached their destination alright. Su Lin was my first baby panda to see born and watch grow up, so she was special to me, then came little ZZ, and now our little Yun Zi. Thanks to all you keepers who take care of the pandas.

  44. Marie says:


    Yesterday I was watching some LP hilights and saw the Vet taking a sample from inside LH. Do you know what that was for? Also, how is the LP weaning coming along? I still see them together. It’s funny to see a bear as big as LP still nursing.

    I watched LP successfully climb up and down a tree although her 3 loyal keepers were waiting at ther bottom to catch her, if she should fall. They even had some rubbery thing at the foot of the tree, in case.

  45. barbara says:

    Mary #31, thanks for the info. I just read a piece on NBC and they showed pictures and had the story.