Panda pair ‘acclimating’ to new home at San Diego Zoo

Yun Chuan and Xin Bao, the long-awaited giant pandas on loan to the San Diego Zoo from China, are adjusting to their new home after arriving June 27 — but aren’t quite ready to meet zoo visitors yet.

Zoo officials released “first-look photos” of the pair on Tuesday and provided a brief update on how their stay is going at the Balboa Park attraction, saying they are “acclimating well to their new home.” Veterinary staff from China and the zoo are closely tracking the pandas, monitoring their weight, appetite and other health indicators, the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance said in a statement.

The zoo has not said exactly when the pandas will be viewable by the public, but it is expected to be several weeks down the line. They are the first pandas to enter the U.S. in 21 years.

The pandas, largely solitary creatures in the wild, are being housed in separate habitats, zoo officials said.

Yun Chuan, the male, is nearly 5 years old and is from the Wolong Shenshuping Panda Base. He already has links to San Diego. He is the son of Zhen Zhen, a panda born at the San Diego Zoo in 2007.

Zoo officials say he is easily identified by his long, slightly pointed nose. He seems “extremely comfortable” exploring the grass and climbing trees in his new habitat, officials said.

Officials hope that he will produce babies with Xin Bao, a female who is nearly 4 years old. She was born at the Wolong Shenshuping Panda Base.

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Yun Chuan grabs a bite of fresh bamboo in his new home at the San Diego Zoo. He is part of a pair of pandas that recenly arrived from China. (San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance) 

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According to a zoo statement, she’s enjoying sunbathing and focusing on an unnamed favorite food. She has a large, round face and big fluffy ears, officials said.

“Over the past week, the San Diego Zoo worked closely with Chinese experts to cater to the dietary needs and preferences of the giant pandas,” the zoo said in a press release. The pandas were given a variety of fresh bamboo and also fed a local adaptation of wowotou (woe-woe-toe), a traditional Chinese bun also known as panda bread, the statement said

Yun Chuan and Xin Bao are the first pandas in San Diego since 2019.

In February, the zoo and Chinese officials signed a conservation agreement laying the groundwork for the 10-year panda loan. The zoo agreed to pay $1 million a year in exchange for the pair, with the hopes that they will reproduce. Money paid to China is earmarked for conservation, officials have said.

The zoo has a long history of working with Chinese partners on conservation of the bears and their bamboo forest habitats. Pandas first came to the San Diego Zoo in 1987 under an exhibition loan and returned in 1996 under a conservation agreement focused on improving panda reproduction.

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That program resulted in six cubs being born and scientists helping to develop techniques credited with keeping young pandas alive, including creating panda-milk formula.

Pandas were long considered endangered in the wild, but gains in panda health and forest protection allowed their status to be upgraded to vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in 2016.

Zoo officials say they’ll post information on the pandas on their website at sandiegozoo.org/giant-pandas.

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