The San Diego Zoo through its Conservation and Research for Endangered Species, is headquarters for the Species Survival Plan (SSP) of the giant panda, an organization sponsored by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association. The plan's aim is to help "ensure the survival of selected wildlife species" through cooperative captive-breeding and training programs.
It was back in September of 1987, this program headed by scientist, Dr. Don Lindburg, began a long-distance collaboration with Chinese scientist at the Wolong Giant Panda Conservation Center in Sichuan Province, China. He and others were able to negotiate a short-term visit for two pandas to come to the San Diego Zoo. Their names were Basi and Yuan Yuan.
In September of 1996, Dr. Lindburg and his staff became foster keepers for a 15 year old rescued male named Shi Shi and 6 year old captive born female named Bai Yun.
Shi Shi which mean "Rock", was estimated to be born around the 1970's, in the wild in China's Sichuan Province. In March 1992, he was critically wounded, then rescued and taken to the Wolong Giant Panda Research Center. Because of his injuries, he was not able to be returned to the wild. His parents are unknown. Shi Shi is still alive and is the only panda who lives at the Guangzhou Zoo, southern China. Here is a link to a fellow panda pal who made the visit to see him recently, providing good information and photos about Shi Shi. Chet's Chatter
Bai Yun which means "White Cloud", is captive born from the Wolong Panda Reserve in China. She was born on September 7, 1991. Her mother is Dong Dong, who is still living at the age of 23 at the Panyu Safari World near Guangzhou, China. Chet's Chatter has a nice story with photos of her at Panyu Safari World. Bai's father is Pan Pan. It is said that approximately, 17% of the pandas in captivity in the world are Pan Pan's descendents. He is currently retired, living at Bifenxia base, which is an affiliate of the Wolong Reserve in China.
Although everything was tried to encourage natural mating between Shi Shi, who at that time was 21 years old and Bai Yun who was 9 years old, just wasn't meant to be. Shi Shi really never wanted anything to do with Bai Yun. So, through the use of artificial insemination, with Shi Shi's sperm, San Diego was successful in having their first panda offspring on August 21, 1999.
They had a female cub named Hua Mei which means "China/USA". She was to be the first surviving panda cub born in the United States. Hua Mei was returned to the China Wolong Giant Panda Center in 2004. This was part of the agreement that was set up between the SDZ and China. In September 2004 she gave birth to twins at the Wolong facility. She had another set of twins in August 2005 and yet another pair in July of 2007, making her the mother of six!
It was decided in 2002, with Shi Shi getting older and with no interest in mating, it would be best to return him to China where they could better care for the aging panda. In January of 2003, another male panda named Gao Gao which means "Big Big" was brought to San Diego in hopes that he would willingly mate with Bai Yun to produce more cubs. Gao Gao, was born in the wild and in March of 1993, he was found severely injured and dehydrated with nearly 2/3 of his left ear having been torn away. He was taken to China's Fengtongzhai Nature Reserve where he recovered quite well and then was moved to Wolong. The arrangement with the Chinese is to have Gao spend 6 years at the SDZ.
To the delight of everyone, Gao has proven to be a super stud knowing exactly what to do when it comes to mating with Bai Yun. Together, through natural mating, they have provided three new panda cubs.
The first one was a male, named Mei Sheng which means "Born in the USA". He was born on August 19, 2003. Mei Sheng was just recently returned to China, on November 5, 2007 to eventually help in the breeding program there.
Their second cub was a female, born on August 2, 2005. She was named Su Lin which means " a little bit of something very cute". She is still living at the SDZ although has since been weaned from her mother last year.
So you can see the San Diego Zoo through its Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species has been extremely successful in its efforts to help Giant Pandas not only in their reproduction, but also in the tremendous amount of research that they have conducted since their first arrival back in 1987.
Thank You to the San Diego Zoo for the information and photos provided in this piece and a big Thank You to my panda pal, Chet. She has kept up with the pandas alot longer then I have and thanks to her visits to see the pandas in China, it has made it possible to put some of the pieces together in the San Diego family history. Be sure to visit her blog site Chet's Corner.