Thursday, August 05, 2010

The San Diego Zoo Celebrates Panda Birthday Week

Having grown up in San Diego, I have almost always had a zoo pass. Some years I make better use of it than others, but I always love knowing it's there. I think what I love about our zoo is that when you first walk in, you see families and schoolchildren and busses and strollers and it's super chaotic, but once you get away from the entrance, whether you get on a tour bus, head off on any of the numerous trails or paths, you can almost always find a quiet space and really get to escape the chaos and enjoy the animals.

This week was different, however, because I was one of a handful of bloggers to come out duringPanda Birthday Week to celebrate Zhen Zhen's 3rd birthday. Some facts: the zoo currently has five giant pandas. As you are probably aware from the big deal made about panda pregnancies, especially in captivity, you're probably aware that Giant Pandas only have a three day window per year in which they can conceive. As such, these siblings were conceived around the same time of year and thus share birthdays during the same week. On Monday, Su Lin was given her fifth birthday cake, on Tuesday it was Zhen Zhen turning three, and today (Thursday), will be young Yun Zi's first birthday, with the ice cake being presented by Bizarre Foods host, Andrew Zimmern (who while in town is working on a piece about Food Trucks and visiting my friend Jorge's "Mariscos Beyer" trucks). The other two Pandas that call San Diego home are the mama and papa of the panda bunch, Bai Yun and Gao Gao.

For full story and photos, click 'keep on reading'

It was a fun morning and a reminder that the best time to see the zoo animals is early in the morning on a weekday. We met up in the Zoo admin building, were given welcome gifts, then made our way to a special photo backdrop that is up for this week only. We were driven on stretch golf carts down to the Panda area. The area was relatively empty while we were there, and we got to enjoy Yun Zi being quite active as his mom watched on.

We were being escorted by Zoo Ambassador Rick Schwartz, so while we had some time to kill before the cake presentation, he walked us up Sun Bear Forest and gave us some in depth information about the animals and the history of the Zoo. This is the part where I should mention that I was the only non-mommy blogger at the event. All of the moms (and a couple daddy-bloggers) had their children in tow, so of course I couldn't help but enjoy the display of Macaque morning sex. Rick quickly said, "Well, it's a zoo with wild's bound to happen," and then added, "let's move along."

We walked up the hill a bit and caught the normally lazy Sun Bears playing around and climbing, so that was pretty cool, too.

Eventually we went back to the education classroom where Zhen Zhen was to receive her cake. The trainers brought out the ice blocks and also her regular bamboo meal. Unfortunately, the bamboo was right near her entrance, so she parked it in the corner, hiding from all of the onlookers. The trainers realized their mistake, sequestered her while they moved her food, then rereleased her where she quickly made her way to the honey drippin ice cakes.

After gawking and taking photos, my sister, God-sister, and nieces arrived, so we had a quick lunch, visited Elephant Odyssey, and rode the skyfari back across the park. Unfortunately we had to cover my mom's daycare, so we didn't get to stay longer, but since I have a pass, I know I'll be back soon.

Panda Birthday Week continues through August 8. The Zoo has stepped up their social media presence with a Fan Page on Facebook, a constantly updated Twitter feed with a #PandaBDay Tweetup happening on Saturday, a Flickr photo contest, and a Foursquare fight for mayor, with the preciding mayor on Saturday walking away with a prize. Huge thanks to Dani, Yadira, and Rick for giving me the opportunity to enjoy the special day.

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