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Panda Tales

 Zhen Zhen, a baby giant panda, San Diego Zoo.
Courtesy of Maura Daly Phinney and San Diego Zoo
Zhen Zhen, a baby giant panda, San Diego Zoo.

Airs Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

Go behind-the-scenes at the San Diego Zoo for a rare look at the first year of life of a baby giant panda. Zhen Zhen captivates visitors at the Zoo with her antics and charm, but she also represents hope for the future of this endangered species. "Panda Tales" combines music and fun scenes of the baby panda growing up with the science behind panda conservation efforts.

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As the fourth in the line of what has become San Diego’s royal family, the Giant Panda cub Zhen Zhen’s opening year of life was marked by not only her milestones, but those of her siblings, as well as the massive earthquake in China that devastated the Giant Panda breeding center closely tied to the San Diego Zoo’s conservation efforts.

Since making her entrance into this world, Zhen Zhen has captivated zoo and “panda cam” visitors with her antics and charm, all the while representing the hope for the future of this endangered species. KPBS cameras have been there along the way, from birth to birthday, giving viewers behind-the-scenes access to China ’s cuddly ambassadors in "Panda Tales."

"Panda Tales" weaves together a story highlighting a time of excitement and learning – but not just for Zhen Zhen. A decade ago, the panda population in the wild was dangerously dwindling due to a low reproductive rate, a disappearing habitat and vanishing food sources.

Thanks to knowledge gleaned partially through the zoo’s research, pandas at the Wolong Giant Panda Breeding Center and Reserve in China, one of the San Diego ’s partners in conservation, now mate naturally, and successfully nurture and raise their offspring. In the past 10 years, the population there has quadrupled.


Amid the story of Zhen Zhen’s progress, an unexpected storyline emerged nine months into filming. A massive earthquake in China on May 12, 2008 struck in the heart of panda country. At Wolong, many of the giant panda enclosures were destroyed or severely damaged. "Panda Tales" captures the Zoo team’s concern for their colleagues in China, as well as plans to aid in the breeding center’s rebuilding.

Though there is no shortage of endearing clips of Zhen Zhen as she grows, "Panda Tales" is much more than a collection of “ahh!” inspiring images. The program takes a serious look at the plight of the giant panda and how the zoo’s program has affected the resurgence of this incredible species.

“Panda Tales” was produced by KPBS; narrator, Kathi Diamant; producer/director, Maura Daly Phinney; music composer, Paul Montesano; associate producer, Andy Trimlett; executive producer, Keith York.

This program originally aired in 2008.

This program is part of our TV Membership Campaign. Support quality programming you depend on from KPBS. Join or renew today!

Preview: Panda Tales