Zoo's Chinese Panda Couple Are Area's New Stars

Reed Travel Features

SAN DIEGO -- She's only 5 years old and already weighs 213 pounds.

He's a few pounds heavier and is believed to be at least six years older.

Together they are San Diego's newest visitor attraction.

Bai Yun, the female, and Shi Shi, the male, are giant Chinese pandas now on view and being studied at the Panda Research Center at the San Diego Zoo.

The pair are on loan from the People's Republic of China for the next 12 years.

While they have Bai Yun and Shi Shi, the world-renowned San Diego Zoo's veterinary scientists will study the animals' habits, diet and behavioral patterns with a view to developing a conservation program for the rare creatures.

The zoo's giant panda research center is not exactly a run-of-the-mill animal enclosure.

It was created at a cost of $1.3 million by a group of architects, curators, veterinarians, nutritionists and horticulturalists.

Solitary creatures by nature, the pandas have areas of the enclosure that allow them to get away from the gaze -- however adoring -- of humans.

Their public display area, moated in order to separate them from viewers, is planted lushly with trees, grass and bamboo, their preferred food.

They have exercise yards, gardens and indoor bedrooms.

Live trees, dead stumps, a waterfall flowing into a shallow wading pool -- the animals' living quarters are as faithful to the real thing as it is possible to get.

And Bai Yun and Shi Shi appear to be thriving since their San Diego debut late last year.

But, then, why shouldn't they?

They never had it this good in the wilds of China.

In addition to giant pandas, about 4,000 birds, reptiles and other creatures call the San Diego Zoo home.

The facility is open daily at 9 a.m. Entrance fees are $15 for adults, $6 for children between the ages of 3 and 11.

For more information, call (619) 234-3153.

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