SD Zoo throwing a panda birthday party

City News Service

The San Diego Zoo will celebrate the second birthday of its youngest giant panda Friday.

Yun Zi, whose name means “son of cloud,’' will be fed an elaborate cake of ice, bamboo and fruit.

The 2-year-old panda is the son of Bai Yun, a female who has given birth to five cubs in her nearly 20 years, and Gao Gao, which means “Big Big.’'

All five of Bai Yun’s offspring were born at the San Diego Zoo, which pays China a hefty fee to maintain panda exhibits.

Pandas born at the San Diego Zoo are considered on loan from China and must be returned after their third birthday.

Yun Zi’s siblings were each sent to the Wolong Nature Reserve Giant Panda Bi Feng Xia Center in China as part of a conservation breeding program.

Giant pandas are a critically endangered species, in part because of deforestation and the expansion of farming. The bamboo-eating member of the bear family has lost much of its forest habitat in the mountainous areas of southwest China to roads and railroads, according to the nonprofit World Wildlife Fund.

Bai Yun’s entrance into the world in September 1991 is considered special because her birth marked the first successful birth of a giant panda at the Wolong center, where four of her five offspring have been sent.

Her first offspring, Hua Mei, born in 1999 through artificial insemination, was the first giant panda born in the United States to survive into adulthood.

Hua Mei was sent to China in 2004, and Mei Sheng, born in 2003, was sent three years later. Late last summer, Su Lin, born in 2005, and Zhen Zhen, born in 2007, were each sent to China.

Hua Mei means `"China USA,’' Mei Sheng means “born in the USA or beautiful life,’' Su Lin means “a little bit of something very cute,’' and Zhen Zhen means “precious.’'

Yun Zi’s birth on Aug. 5, 2009, was a welcome surprise to zookeepers.

Zoo officials said they didn’t know Bai Yun was pregnant until about a week before Yun Zi was born. Panda pregnancies typically last from 85 to 130 days.

The name Yun Zi was chosen by public vote and pays tribute to Bai Yun, whose name means “white cloud.’' The public chose Yun Zi over names that meant “blissful San Diego,’' “little dragon,’' “extraordinary bear,’' and “eternally blessed.’'

The zoo opens at 9 a.m., 15 minutes before the birthday cake is to be served.

You can watch the pandas on the zoo’s pandacam at