Three generations of a panda family

Filed in Stress Busters

When I adopted my second panda Gong Zhu in 2008, she was 10 years old and already a mother of three sets of twins and two single cubs. Nine years later, she’s not only added four more single cubs to her family for a total of 12, but has also become a grandmother and a great-grandmother, too. Of her 12 cubs, Zhu Hai, one of her 2007 cubs, perished in the aftermath of the 2008 earthquake.

Gong Zhu’s mother died in 2010 but her father Da Di is still with us, living in Beijing Zoo. I had been looking forward to visiting him on one of my trips to see Gong Gong, my first adopted panda Feng Yi’s son, who lives in Taiyuan, just six hi-speed train stops from Beijing.

For my previous two visits to Taiyuan, I had flown in via Fuzhou (November 2015) and Wuhan (May 2016). I recently made a third trip there. This time, I flew into Beijing to take the train to Taiyuan, with a couple of stops along the way. From Taiyuan, I flew to Chengdu enroute to Dujiangyan to wait for the arrival of Gong Gong’s sister, Nuan Nuan, who was being returned to China from Malaysia. Gong Zhu is also in Dujiangyan; I would be seeing both her and her father this trip.

Before I left for Beijing, Leo in Fuzhou said I should go to Dezhou to visit Gong Zhu’s youngest cub, Xian Xian. Dezhou is located between Beijing and Taiyuan; after looking at train schedules and despite timing being a bit tight, I decided to add Dezhou to my itinerary. And this was how I came to see three generations of my second adopted panda’s family recently.

The following, in chronological order, are photos of my three visits with them.

Da Di in Beijing Zoo – 6 November 2017

Born in 1992, Da Di is the eldest son of the famous Pan Pan who sired 30 offsprings in his lifetime while Da Di himself sired 19.

My first sight of “Big Earth” (what Da Di means in English)

Slumped against the door after eating; too full to move?

Classic panda sleeping position

A youthful-looking 25-year-old panda

Nice smile for his daughter’s adopter

Xian Xian in Dezhou Zoo – 7 November 2017

Dezhou was not on my original itinerary. I had to be somewhere else the next day in order to arrive in Taiyuan by a certain date, so it could only be a day trip, with the morning train from Beijing and then the evening train to Shijiazhuang, the next stop. Despite the quick visit, I’m glad I went to see Xian Xian, Gong Zhu’s youngest cub, at the zoo there. I was going to visit a movie star; both Xian Xian and her mother were featured in the 2016 Disney movie, Born in China.

Feeding time with one of her two keepers

Dirty glass display but I’m glad the smudge didn’t hide her face

The keeper had put her treats in a little basket in the yard and she came out to enjoy them

I kept thinking Gong Zhu throughout the visit because Xian Xian looks so much like her

Back inside and I managed to find a clean part of the display to get this shot

So happy to see the Zoo’s panda exhibit has a poster about Xian Xian’s movie credentials in Born in China

Gong Zhu in Dujiangyan – 12 to 15 November 2017

I had three whole days with Gong Zhu, plus a bonus afternoon due to my early morning flight from Taiyuan and my decision to stay at a hotel within walking distance of Dujiangyan panda base.

I had helped look after Gong Zhu for a whole week during my first volunteer trip to Bifengxia in August 2008. I couldn’t stop thinking of her when I returned home; after looking at, and re-arranging, my financial commitments, I informed Pandas International of my decision to adopt her.

I’ve visited Gong Zhu at least once, usually more, every year since adopting her nine years ago. Even when she was transferred to Ganzhou in February 2016, I kept up with my visits with her. My first adopted panda Feng Yi’s arrival to live in Malaysia as part of a panda loan agreement with China has often overshadowed this second panda adoption of mine. It is only recently that I’ve discovered Gong Zhu is just as important to me as Feng Yi.

19-year-old panda plays peek-a-boo with her adopter

She can still climb trees when she wants to and stand firm on a slim branch, too

Perfect panda ears!

Not the first time she’s given me the eye

At her drinking fountain, which a visitor (not me) had described as feng shui

This is not the first time I’ve visited three generations of a panda family, but it is the first time I planned to see two of them and then was gifted with the third. The first time I saw three generations of a panda family on the same trip was during my very first panda trip in 2007. In those days, there were no direct flights from Malaysia to Chengdu. I had flown through Guangzhou and had stayed over to visit San Diego Zoo’s former papa panda, and Hua Mei’s father, Shi Shi, in Guangzhou Zoo. Before the trip, Nekomama on the Flickr photo site had said someone told her there was a panda by the name of Dong Dong living in Panyu Park (as Chimelong Safari Park was known in those days); she wondered if this Dong Dong was Hua Mei’s maternal grandmother. Since I was going to be in Guangzhou, I decided to visit Panyu to find out; the Dong Dong there was indeed Hua Mei’s maternal grandmother. And then when I got to Wolong, I was taken to visit Hua Mei who was in the maternity ward at the time, a visit arranged by Pandas International. And so, not having preplanned it, I ended up seeing three generation of a panda family on my very first panda trip to China 10 years ago.

I have been, and continue to be, so blessed.