La Jolla Mom

Why the San Diego Zoo Pandas Left

For decades, the San Diego Zoo was known as a giant panda haven. In 2019, the Zoo said goodbye to its last two giant pandas, but the story of the Zoo’s history with giant pandas is worth celebrating.

In 1987, the first pandas — Basi and Yuan Yuan — arrived for what was supposed to be 100 days. Two million people visited, and the pandas stayed for twice as long.

Then in 1996, Bai Yun and Shi Shi arrived under a twelve-year loan from the Chinese government. At the time, the species was endangered in the wild but the Zoo worked closely with China’s Gian Panda Conservation Program to research critical fertility and reproduction issues.

In 1999, Hua Mei was born — the first panda born in the US to survive to adulthood. People loved visiting the Zoo and watching her grow from a baby into an adult. Throughout the years, five more cubs were born.

In 2019, the Zoo bid farewell to its last two giant pandas, Bai Yun and Xiao Liwu. This represented the official end of the loan program, initially twelve years long, and which had been extended twice. During that time, the giant pandas were elevated from endangered status to vulnerable status.

In the former giant panda habitat, you can still observe all kinds of animals, including red pandas. While things may look a bit different, it’s still special to walk around the Zoo and reflect on the special story.