According to the best numbers available, there are just over 2,000 giant pandas left in the world.
That makes each one special.
Washington, D.C., recently celebrated the birth of twin pandas, though one died just a few days after being born, at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. Meanwhile, another giant panda, on the U.S. west coast, was making headlines of her own.
Bai Yun celebrated her 24th birthday at the San Diego Zoo in California as her keepers and fans gathered around.
Bai Yun, a giant panda at the San Diego Zoo, celebrated her 24th birthday with a tasty slushy cake made with applesauce and filled with chunks of apples, carrots, and yams, Sept. 7, 2015. (Courtesy of San Diego Zoo)
The giant panda matriarch came out of her den to find a slushy ice cake made with applesauce and filled with chunks of apples, carrots and yams. Animal care staff also decorated her exhibit with gift boxes filled with hay and pine shavings, which the curious bear seemed to thoroughly enjoy.
Bamboo feeders were scattered about, and staff sprinkled some of her favorite scents: cinnamon, wintergreen, peppermint and spearmint, which she rubbed all over her face.
Fans also watched in amusement as Bai bounced on her swing, while licking up the honey drizzled around the area. She also seemed to have a fun time bobbing for apples that had been tossed into her pool.
The birthday event was festive, but relaxed, says Jennifer Becerra, senior mammal keeper at the zoo.
"Bai Yun is definitely the queen bee when it comes to her birthday party,” she laughed.
“She takes her time. She came out of her bedroom nice and slow, went straight to the cinnamon and honey on her swing and then she decided to visit a few boxes and destroyed them, and then moseyed over eventually to her cake which took her about 15 minutes to eat," said Becerra.
Bai Yun arrived at the San Diego Zoo in September, 1996. Keepers say she was a curious, playful youngster, delighting the crowds with her acrobatic skills. In 1999, she gave birth to her first cub, Hua Mei. Since then, she's had five more - Mei Sheng in 2003, Su Lin in 2005, Zhen Zhen in 2007, Yun Zi in 2009, and Xiao Liwu in 2012 - all conceived naturally.
Bai Yun & Xiao Liwu at the San Diego Zoo, California. (Courtesy of San Diego Zoo)
Bai Yun is one of the oldest pandas known to have given birth. Her parental achievements have helped researchers and keepers learn more about panda behavior, pregnancy, birth and maternal care.
Keepers describe the birthday bear as a superstar. They say she is an amazing mother, always taking great care of her cubs, playing rough-and-tumble games, and showering them with attention.
"I have not been her longest keeper,” said Becerra, "but definitely six years has been wonderful. She has taught me a lot about giant pandas and how to take care of them."
The San Diego Zoo is home to two other giant pandas. In addition to Bai Yun, there is her son Xiao Liwu, and her mate, Gao Gao.
The giant pandas are on loan from China for conservation studies of this endangered species.