Bai Yun with cub

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Our Giant Panda Supermom

Tender and Tiny

Scientists, keepers and veterinarians held their breath as giant panda Bai Yun was in labor on August 21, 1999. Watching on the remote camera, they waited anxiously for the cub’s first loud squawk. When it came, the whole room erupted in a huge sigh of relief, with smiles all around. Hua Mei had arrived!

From first seeing the tiny, squirming cub on a sonogram until witnessing her birth, the panda team was both ecstatic and nervous. Would Bai Yun, a first-time mother, know what to do with her impossibly tiny cub? If the cub needed to be hand raised, could we create just the right milk formula?

After all the excitement surrounding Hua Mei’s birth, what if she didn’t survive?

Two photos of Bai Yun with newborn cub, and close up of cub.

Maternal Instincts

Hindsight is a great thing when all goes well. We shouldn’t have worried: Bai Yun is a supermom! From the moment one of her cubs is born, she carefully holds it in one large paw and cradles the little one against her, a true labor of love. For days to come, she doesn’t eat or drink as she tends to her cub.

After Hua Mei’s birth, it was five days before Bai Yun left her den to get a drink of water, and it was nine days before she emerged to nibble on a few bamboo stalks. That gave veterinarians and keepers a chance to look at the newborn and give it a quick exam.

Bai Yun and cub eating bamboo

A Mother's Work Is Never Done

But if the cub cries out, Bai Yun quickly rushes back and gathers the cub in her arms. Being a panda mom is definitely a 24-hour-a-day job! Giant pandas are devoted mothers, and the San Diego Zoo knows this firsthand: Bai Yun’s six cubs, born between 1999 and 2012, taught us to believe in supermoms.

cub Hua Mei

Made In China: The Next Generation

Now Hua Mei is a mother herself, many times over. In China, she has given birth to 10 cubs, including 3 sets of twins! Supermoms Bai Yun and Hua Mei have provided hope that giant pandas can be saved from extinction.

small panda cub chewing bamboo

Why They Need You

Despite their popularity and lack of natural predators, giant pandas are endangered. The Yangtze Basin is the economic heart of China, and it also contains the rugged bamboo forests that pandas rely on. Roads and railroads crisscross through panda country, leaving them with fragmented areas of habitat. Additionally, hunters seeking other wildlife continue to kill pandas unintentionally. But the tide is turning! 

panda cub peeking from behind a branch

Baby Panda Exam

Happily, we have learned a great deal about this rare bear’s biology and behavior, and more cubs are surviving in zoos and panda breeding centers.

panda cub among leafy branches

How You Can Help

Visit our giant pandas at the San Diego Zoo and keep up with all the black-and-white “drama” on our Panda Cam. Conserving resources like water and electricity helps keep the planet healthy for pandas and other wildlife.