San Diego Zoo Global and China’s Consul General Celebrate 23-year Panda Research Program and the Future of Panda Conservation

Guests Hang Bells, Messages of Support on Giant Panda Friendship Wall

Today (April 6, 2019), San Diego Zoo Global officials, Consul General Zhang Ping of the People’s Republic of China in Los Angeles and invited guests gathered to commemorate the successful end of San Diego Zoo Global’s current giant panda research program, and the beginning of a new era of panda conservation at the San Diego Zoo. With a crowd of more than 30 guests and members of the press, officials kicked off a three-week-long farewell celebration for female giant panda Bai Yun (pronounced bye yoon) and her son, 6-year-old Xiao Liwu (pronounced sshyaoww lee woo), who will be repatriated to China this spring. The ceremony cited the giant panda program’s many scientific achievements over the last two decades—and expressed hopes for the future of the species and thankfulness for the partnership and deep friendship between San Diego Zoo Global staff and their partners in China.

Douglas G. Myers, president/CEO, San Diego Zoo Global, and Consul General Zhang Ping of the People’s Republic of China in Los Angeles, celebrate the partnership and success of the Zoo’s giant panda program.

“The San Diego Zoo was honored to be chosen by conservationists in China to work with them to develop a new model for species conservation,” said Douglas G. Myers, president/CEO, San Diego Zoo Global. “The panda program we began together demonstrates how powerful these collaborative efforts can be. We are extremely grateful to China for sharing the pandas with us and offering us the chance to serve this species in a leadership role.”

As part of this special celebration that ends April 27, the public is invited to show their appreciation for giant pandas in multiple ways. Zoo visitors can purchase a commemorative bell from the Panda Shop or choose a free tag to hang on the Giant Panda Friendship Wall, located across from the Giant Panda Research Station in Panda Canyon. On social media, panda fans are encouraged to share their memories and their hopes for the species using #pandas4ever.

Symbolic bells hung on the Giant Panda Friendship Wall.

Looking ahead, San Diego Zoo Global staff, along with colleagues in China, are working to determine what’s next for panda conservation and research. Decades ago, when San Diego Zoo Global started working with giant pandas, the species was on the verge of extinction. The Zoo became part of an international collaboration that included the China Wildlife Conservation Association (CWCA), the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda (CCRCGP), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other accredited zoos and conservation organizations, in an unprecedented international effort to prevent a panda extinction event. 

Since then, conservation scientists around the world, including scientists from San Diego Zoo Global, have helped the Chinese people raise awareness for the plight of pandas in their native habitat. Bai Yun, Gao Gao (who returned to China in October 2018) and Bai Yun’s cubs—including her sixth cub Xiao Liwu—helped scientists learn a great deal about panda behavior, pregnancy, births, and maternal and geriatric care. This knowledge has contributed to Chinese efforts to help boost the wild population of giant pandas in China to nearly 2,000 individuals.

Hua Mei and Bai Yun. Hua Mei was the first cub born at the San Diego Zoo in 1999.

Building a sustainable population of giant pandas under human care has contributed to the growing population, and has provided pandas for reintroduction into protected areas in China. Their increased numbers, along with policies put in place by the Chinese government, led the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species to “downlist” the giant panda’s status from Endangered to Vulnerable—meaning that while threats to pandas’ survival remain high, indicators show the species is in less danger of extinction than before, and that conservation efforts are working. In the wake of this accomplishment, conservationists are determined to create a plan to continue the conservation momentum, and the return of Bai Yun and Xiao Liwu to China is a part of that overall strategy.

“Although we are sad to see these pandas go, we have great hopes for the future,” said Shawn Dixon, chief operating officer, San Diego Zoo Global. “Working with our colleagues in China, San Diego Zoo Global is ready to make a commitment for the next stage of our panda program.”

Zoo guests can continue to visit Bai Yun and Xiao Liwu in Panda Canyon until April 27. “We understand that pandas are beloved around the world, including by our staff, volunteers and millions of annual guests,” said Dwight Scott, director of the San Diego Zoo. “We are planning a fitting celebration for Bai Yun and Xiao Liwu that includes a big thank you to the Chinese people for their continued partnership and our combined conservation accomplishments in helping to save this amazing species.”