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Cancer, Old Age Could Signal End Of Breeding For San Diego Zoo’s Giant Panda Pair

Above: Gao Gao eats some bamboo at the San Diego Zoo.

Two of the San Diego Zoo’s most popular parents might be done breeding.

Aired 5/8/14 on KPBS News.

Two of the San Diego zoo’s most popular parents might be done making baby pandas. One half of the giant panda pair has cancer, the other is getting too old to have offspring.

Gao Gao, a giant panda who has fathered five of the zoo’s six cubs was recovering Wednesday from surgery to remove his right testicle because of the presence of a tumor.

The 24-year-old "panda-cam" star is expected to make a full recovery, but zoo officials said his reproductive days might be over.

His mate, 22-year-old Bai Yun, mother of all six of the Zoo’s cubs, is showing signs of "panda menopause," said Megan Owen, associate director of Applied Animal Ecology division at the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research.

Owen said the productive female two years ago barely missed the record of being the oldest mother to give birth in captivity.

San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo's giant panda cub Xiao Liwu

"Bai Yun dictates whether we have her breeding or not so we’ll watch her closely for the rest of the spring and going into next spring and we’ll see what she does," Owen said.

Owen said it's unclear what's next on the Zoo's panda breeding horizon.

"There’s still a tremendous amount of conservation value with a pair of giant pandas whether or not they’re breeding," Owen said. "First and foremost our interests are in giant panda conservation and at the zoo, we know that giant pandas are incredible conservation ambassadors."

The pandas are on loan from China under a research agreement that began in 1996.

The pair’s most recent cub, 20-month-old Xiao Liwu, will be transferred to China’s breeding and conservation center when he turns 4.

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