Panda Thermal Images

What can Bai Yun tell us?

Along with blooming flowers and baby birds, spring in San Diego brings the question, “Is Bai Yun pregnant?” Following three successful breeding sessions with Gao Gao in mid-April, giant panda researchers and animal care staff are looking forward to welcoming a new cub in the next few months. But, Bai Yun keeps her secrets very well, and we don’t know yet if she is carrying her sixth offspring. We may get an early glimpse today when we perform the first of a series of thermal images of Bai Yun’s abdomen.

As the name implies, thermal imaging is a way to see areas of increased heat within the body cavity. A thermal camera looks like the old- fashioned, clunky video camera your parents had when you were a kid. But instead of recording moving pictures of you as a tree in the school play, this camera captures still pictures of Bai Yun’s belly. The thermal images are color maps of the organs and activities in the abdomen, with red indicating a higher temperature than yellow, green, or blue (blue is the coolest).

We will concentrate on Bai Yun’s uterus during the imaging sessions. When an embryo gets ready to attach to the uterus, there is increased blood supply to that area, making the temperature in that spot rise several degrees. It is this heat “signature” that indicates the presence and approximate location of an implantation site. It may be too early to see the activity of an embryo or fetus, but we will get a baseline picture of Bai Yun’s uterus to use for comparison over the next several weeks.

Barbara Durrant is the director of reproductive physiology and Henshaw Chair at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post,  Panda Pregnancies 101.

69 Responses to Panda Thermal Images

  1. Thanks for the Bai update. Has SDZ always used thermal imaging on Bai? Will Chinook has procedure as well?

    • We’ve been doing thermal imaging on Bai Yun since 2003, when we saw evidence of Mei Sheng and his two littermates. We observed one of the heat signatures become smaller over time, and when our veterinarians were able to visualize the fetuses, there were only two. Then, as you know, one of the two remaining littermates also was reabsorbed, and Mei Sheng was born a singleton.

      We are not able to shave the abdomen on the polar bears, so we can’t image them as we do Bai Yun, who allows shaving.

  2. Very interesting Barbara. I would like to see your answer to Dianna’s question too. I don’t recall anyone mentioning thermal imaging before.

  3. And will Marcella get thermal imaging, assuming she and Francis mate successfully? Wouldn’t it be cool to have cubs from three of the eight bear species at the same time? It could happen!

    • We are not able to shave Marcella, but her fur is not as long or insulating as giant panda or polar bear fur, and we were able to see a heat signature with thermal imaging during her first pregnancy in 2004. We are currently analyzing vaginal cells from Marcella to chart her estrous cycle and are hopeful for a successful breeding with Francis. We’ll incorporate thermal imaging with hormone monitoring to diagnose pregnancy.

  4. This is really exciting to read — thanks for the report. Hopefully we may have some good news soon! 😉

  5. In Bai’s past pregnancies, have you been able to get a “heat” image of potential implantation, this early in a possible pregnancy? So if conception took place upon breeding she, would be, what approximately 6 weeks along?

    In pandas an egg can be fertilized but not immediately implant? I think I remember reading something of this sort! I wonder why the fertilized egg does this!

    • We were able to image distinct heat signatures in Bai Yun’s uterus at 97 days post breeding in 2003, close to the time of estimated implantation. The exact time of implantation is not known for any bear species, but we are gaining more information with hormone monitoring, ultrasound and thermal imaging that bring us closer to understanding pregnancy events in the giant panda.

  6. wow, can’t wait to hear, very anxious to see a new little cubby this summer, the suspence is killing me, will you post the picture of the image????

  7. It sounds very much like the infrared cameras used to visualize heat loss in houses!!
    Same technique used for very different applications, but in a strange way connected. We have to preserve the pandas from extinction because of the damages to their natural habitat by mankind. And we have to do all we can to reduce our energy usage and waste as not to make the situation worse.
    Just an idea for the science teachers out there…

  8. With the new Kung Fu Panda film that just came out, people are going crazy about pandas everywhere and China is no exception. They had a special event for 20 children with special needs at Bifengxia and the children had the chance to meet with a real panda called Yang Hu. I just learned today that Yang Hu is Hua Mei’s son born on September 17, 2010
    www (dot) chinapanda (dot) org (dot) cn/blog.php?id=845

    • And Hao Hao’s lttle brother!

      • And he and his brothers will be a uncles soon, and and Hao Hao her sister will be aunts soon if Yuan Yuan and Tuan Tuan have a cub soon in Taipei!!

  9. Oh wow, how exciting!! I don’t remember hearing about thermal imaging previously either, only ultrasound. Thank you so much, Barbara, for keeping us posted on the process, even at this early stage.

  10. Leouu posted a beautiful picture in memory of Dong Dong, Bai Yun’s mother, she passed away today. Dong Dong was rescued in 1990, it was estimated that she was born in 1984. She was probably 27 years old.
    Rest in peace sweet Dong Dong.

    • So sorry to hear of Dong Dong’s passing. Anyone can see where Bai gets her beauty.

      Let’s hope Bai Yun has inherited her longevity genes.

      Rest in peace, beautiful and dear Dong Dong.

    SPECIAL GUEST STAR: Unkie as the Teacher!
    Momma Bai is making her bed when Yun Zi bounces into the room.
    BY:Why, Yunior, you sure are excited for your first day of school.
    YZ:Yep, and the good news is, I got Unkie as my teacher! And Archie the spider monkey is in my class!
    BY:Oh, you mean the same little spider monkey that almost drowned at the Great Elephant Water Race two months ago?
    YZ:Yeah, that’s the one! Remember, I went over to his house and met his parents. They’re really nice.
    Gao Gao strolls in.
    GG:Who are we talking about?
    BY:Archie the spider monkey’s parents, Denise and Rob.
    GG:Yes, I invited them over for a glass of 1999 Boobino but they turned it down. But I don’t blame them, I wouldn’t find it that good if I were a spider monkey.
    BY:Anyway, who else is in your class?
    YZ:Mr. Unkie’s class is Chuck the red panda, Taylor the fruit bat, Billy the wombat, Kaylee the tiger… Yun Zi coninues on for several minutes listing the names of animals that will be in his class and Enid the gorilla.
    BY:When’s Cirriculum Night?
    YZ:June the 9th. Registration is the 8th.
    GG:We’ve got to remember to sign you up for Chinese as a Second Language, Life Skills, Home Economics, and Advanced Physical Education. You were top honors in panda preschool, and I expect a lot from you in the next seven years.
    YZ:Daddy, I’m going into kindergarten. CSL I can start, but Life Skills, Home Ec, and Advanced PE can’t be done until the sixth grade.
    GG:CSL is all I care about right now. Sashays away
    UN:Good morning, class!
    CLASS:Good morning, Mr. Unkie!
    UN:Welcome to your first day of school here at the San Diego Zoo Center for Animal Education. Otherwise known to the hoomans as the old, unused barn. But they don’t know what’s on the inside! State of the art everything, PawPad 2s, PawBooks, PawPod Touches, everything! Any questions before we start?
    TAYLOR:When’s fruit break?
    UN:After recess, for 15 minutes.
    ENID:Do you have peanut butter and banana sandwiches for lunch?
    UN:You’ll have to talk to our master chef, Bai Yun-Gao, about that one.
    Oh, my god.Yun Zi thoughtMy mom works at my school. Ths is not gonna be a good year, after all

    • Fun story, Joe. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Is this method more accurate than ultra sounds? Was heat imagining used on Lun Lun at Zoo Atlanta when she had Po recently?

  13. Wow the magic of science. I sure hope something shows up. Can this be used
    also on the polar mom? Thank you for interesting info.

  14. How exciting! I can’t wait for confirmation that we’ll get to watch Bai raise another cub, or not.

  15. Hope you get interesting data. Research is fun. Of course I’m hoping for another cub too.

  16. Just received the latest Zoonooz as it made its way to CT. What a stunning Bai on the cover! I am framing it. What a tribute to Dong Dong at a sad time today. All the happy that has happened because of her. And hopefully more, Bai! On another note, the Panda Trek looks gorgeous!

  17. Barbara, thanks for the report about thermal imaging. I just think it is amazing that, no matter how much information is in your reports, it always opens a new gate of more and more questions! lol When it comes to SDZ’s pandas and polar bears, no other group of fans, bloggers, or any animal lovers, have a bigger thirst for more and more knowledge. I think it is wonderful. The more we can learn of Giant Pandas, the higher the percentage of survival rises.

    Thank you San Diego Zoo and your team of scientists and care takers, for all you do to educate the world about animals.

  18. I was just reviewing some of the comments of a previous blog, posted May 19, 2011, The State of Pandas in the Wild (?). There was a lot of expressed concern regarding Su Lin being “released into the wild”. I would remind everyone that this is a “semi-wild” environment that she will go into. It is a safe enclosure, and is not totally without supervision. In a post on Pandas Live On, the scientists and keepers at BFX grew alarmed after the unexpected snowfall in March, collected a large team of searchers, went into the protected semi-wild area and did an immediate search for the mother panda and her cub. They found the cub 1st…he was resting peacefully up in a tree (no doubt where mom put him), they posted a sweet picture of him in the tree, then mom was found a short distance away, calmly munching away in a stand of bamboo growth. So this is encouraging that these bears are not put there and forgotten. The other bears in the enclosure were also accounted for. Since the American born bears are sort of “stars”, to the Chinese, in their respective centers, I am sure the Chinese will be respectful of their stature in the States. To whoever compared the status of Mei Lan vs. Su Lin, I would remind you that Mei Lan is younger than Su Lin, and not ready for breeding at this time.

    Thanks for letting me have my say.

    • As long as Su Lin would be safe, as it appears she would be, I think this is an incredible opportunity. It’s close to the goal of the entire program, after all, to live (almost) wild and free again.

      A very lucky bear, as long as she’s safe.

  19. With the passing on of Dong Dong, we certainly need another panda born into this world….believing for a set of twins for Bai Yun……

  20. After the recent passing of Ming Ming and Dong Dong at the Panyu Safari Park in Guangzhou, life is going on for the remaining pandas. They were all given dumplings to celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival blog(dot)sina(dot)com(dot)cn/s/blog_5ef53c060100r0sj.html
    They have four adult pandas born in 2005 in Wolong: Yao Yao (F), Hui Hui (M), You You (M) and Ting Ting (F). They also have six pandas born in 2009 at Bifengxia who came to Panyu on October 27, 2010 for the Asian Games: Hao Hao (F), Yun Yun (M), Jin Ke (M), Yin Ke (M) and Bo Si (F). Hao Hao 好好 is Hua Mei’s little girl, and she is the cub shown with the circle around her paw holding a dumpling. Ting Ting 婷婷 is Hua Mei’s oldest daughter, she is labeled as the female bandit in the blog and she is on the 11 last pictures of the adult pandas, just before the pictures of the cubs.
    I thought some of you would want to see pictures of Dong Dong’s great-granddaughters who are also living at Panyu.

    • Hey Danielle, thievery must run in Hua Mei’s kids. My last update on Hao Hao mentioned her habit of nosing into the other cubs’ milk after she gulps up her own! Thanks so much for the update and the chuckles!

      • Mary, I am not sure why Hao Hao was sitting away from the other five cubs, if she thought she had stolen a dumpling from them or if she was afraid that they would steal her dumpling as retaliation from previous mischiefs…

        • She may have misbehaved yet one more time and was sent to time out or she may just have exerted her independent streak and decided to eat in her bedroom or both.

          • You do know you adopted daughter, don’t you Mary.

            I personally would rather have a child that is active than one that just sits around and doesn’t react :)

    • Sorry, I forgot Shen Wei (M) as the sixth cubs born in 2009.

    • Thank you Danielle for this post and all the photos! It is good to hear about all the panda family.

  21. Does anyone know if there was any breeding success with Su Lin in China?

    • Vicki, it is rare to have panda cubs born before the beginning of July.

  22. Does anyone have any details about Dong Dong’s death? Had she been ill? It would be nice to know if she had any medical issues, just like our doctors ask for our family medical histories. Bai Yun does look a lot like her mother! And her father, Pan Pan is still alive, although I think he is a year younger than Dong Dong.

    • Lizzie, I haven’t been able to find any information about the reason for Dong Dong’s death, but she was an old panda (27 years old, +/- 3 years) and I believed she enjoyed a healthy life until the end. Which I think is comforting. Pan Pan is indeed still alive and residing at Bifengxia. Pan Pan was rescued in April 1986 and it was estimated that he was born in 1985. Dong Dong was rescued in March 1990 and it was estimated that she was born in 1984 +/- 3 years. So she might or might not have been a year older than Pan Pan. It is easier to evaluate the age a cub, as it was the case for Pan Pan, than the age of a 6 year old adult female (+/- 3 years).

      • Thank you Danielle. I’ve been wondering about Pan Pan as we haven’t heard anything about him in years. And I couldn’t find any new info anywhere. I am happy to learn that he is indeed alive and well and in BFX.

  23. Hi! Well, I’m ready to watch another baby panda grow up again, and I’m hoping that I will be watching 2 momma pandas take care of baby pandas later this summer on both the SDZ and NZ pandacams! That will certainly remind me of Bai and Mei taking care of Su Lin and Tai Shan back in 2005 when those 2 cubs were born a month apart. That sure kept me busy on the pandacams that year! Still have not seen any new updates from the panda keepers at Memphis Zoo about Ya Ya and Le Le, and if Ya Ya has had her estrus cycle yet. Gonna check their website for any kind of news real soon!
    Lun Lun and Po at Atlanta Zoo are doing good. Read their latest updates, and it looks like Po has taken after Mei Lan and Xi Lan in the stealing the leafeater biscuits from Mommie Monster department! He’ll spot a biscuit in the hammock, come down from the top log to the hammock, grab the biscuit in his mouth, go back up to the top log, and eat the biscuit till it’s gone. Then, he’ll be off to find another one to eat! Looks like he’s starting to eat solid food real well now.
    Going to bed, but will be back later!
    Chari Mercier :)
    St. Pete, FL

  24. i live in Asia and I’m fairly new to giant panda life cycle, especially a panda cub’s. I would greatly appreciate if anyone could tell me: whether Yun Zi, after weaning, ever gets a glimpse of either of his parents in a long while? Or is he living all alone by himself and never gets a chance to even come close to smell his parents at all? I hope you all do not think this is a silly question, but I really do wonder whether the cub is very lonely.

    Moderator’s note: He currently is in an exhibit that is right next to his father’s, so they can certainly smell each other; if Yun Zi climbed high enough, he could see his father, too. Please keep in mind that adult pandas are solitary in the wild and would not be keeping company with another panda (see post Pandas Play Solitaire). Yun Zi is not considered a cub any more but a subadult. He has plenty of things to do to keep from being bored.

    • Moderator: This link leads to a page that is not available unfortunately… :-( I wanted to read that blog post for more information on the solitary nature of pandas. Is there another way to access it?

      Moderator’s note: Here’s the direct page:

      • Thank you, Moderator, the passage is very educational.

      • Thanks you so much — that was very informative. I always love Suzanne’s clear explanations of Panda behavior and why SDZ does things the way they do. I am so glad you referred us to that archived blog post. :-)

  25. Will you be posting pictures of the thermal imageing for Bai Yun. Does it look good for a new cubbie

    • The first thermal image of Bai Yun on June 1 established a pre-implantation baseline. We will use this picture to compare subsequent images. To obtain this picture, Bai Yun was being maintained in a “down” position on her back by Senior Keeper Kathy Hawk. Bai Yun was quite comfortable and calm in this position as Kathy fed her treats of apple, yam, carrot, and honey water.

      The second image, taken today (June 8) showed a large, diffuse heat signature in the area of Bai Yun’s uterus, indicating that she is preparing for implantation. Keep in mind, though, that even if a giant panda is not pregnant, her uterus will go through these changes. So we will continue to peek into Bai Yun’s abdomen to discover if she’s hiding a little one (or maybe two).

      • Dr. Durrant: Thank you so much for this update on what is taking place and what you are finding — we pandafans are a very eager group waiting for any word we can get on Bai Yun’s “condition”. :-) Here’s hoping for two!! 😉

      • Thank you for answering all our questions and we are just as excited as the SDZ staff at the prospect of a new cubby or two. Praying that all will go well at NZ and CMZ as well.

  26. When will we know about the thermal imaging results with Bai Yun?
    Really looking forward to another cub. Panda fan from Miami, Florida

    • Me too. Gao Gao and I are pretty excited about being parents again. Yunnie wants to be a hands on big brother so he will help with chaging diapers and bottle feeding the young one. Hee Hee, we’ll see.

      • Bai Yun: Thanks for cooperating so nicely with the doctors and keepers there at the SDZ. I’m sure it won’t be long before we all hear some good news… 😉

        • I really love the ultra sound gel they use on my belly. It has a lovely scent and I love rubbing it all over my perfectly round ears of which I am quite proud. I must admit when they shave my belly, I do feel a little exposed but I know it is somehow good for my health and the cubby that we hope will come in August. You know, Yunnie keeps bugging me for a brother as a birthday present. As a loving mama, I will try to oblige. Thanks for your support, Deborah. Come and visit some time OK?

  27. With the passing of Dong Dong, is BaSi now the oldest panda?

    • Dong Dong was never the oldest panda, and Ba Si is not the oldest panda at the present time. Ba Si was captured in 1984 and it was estimated that she was born in 1980. The oldest panda now is Bao Bao who is residing at the Zoo in Berlin, Germany. He was captured in April 1979 and it was estimated that he was born in 1978. Unfortunately, like Ba Si, his longevity genes will not be transmitted to future generations, despite several attempts, he never became a father and Ba Si never had cubs either.

      • Last year I was able to meet Bao Bao when I visited the Berlin Zoo. He was especially enchanted by a young child who walked back and forth with him at the clear “glass” wall at the edge of his outdoor enclosure. He seemed pretty active and alert for such an old panda. He was offered some treats that included fruits and veggies, but he only ate the big German pretzel.

  28. Moderator: I will be visiting the Pandas next Thursday, and since it is my birthday, can I please bring ice treats for them to enjoy?

    Moderator’s note: How nice of you to think of our pandas on your special day! We can’t accept treats from “outside,” but blowing kisses to the pandas is always acceptable 😉

    • With any luck, they will blow kisses back at me!

  29. Today, Tuesday, i saw a story on morning news about their hoping for a new cub in Wash. DC. They were showing how they do sonagrams to try to find the fetus.
    They will know in the next 3 weeks if a cub is coming shortly.

    • Today DC Zoo says that Mei Xiang has all most stopped eating completely and is nearing the end of her pregnancy/psuedo-pregnancy. She has built a huge nest….I watch the website very closely now several times a day to check for more news….hoping – hoping – hoping for a cub for Mei and Tian. Such an exciting time. Then, later on we can all be hoping for Bai to have a cub. Hope we have a great year with new cubbies!

  30. That young man sure can make a mess in area. He must move his boo all over
    the place. I’m sure he keeps his keeper very busy. What a boy.

  31. Moderator: any interesting resutls from the imaging, was their extra blood flow to Bai Yun

    Moderator’s note: I’ve just posted Dr. Durrant’s answers as “replies” to questions posed in some of the comments above, so be sure to check them out. She’ll have an image for us to post on Friday (June 10).

    • Where is that information posted, Moderator? I must be looking in the wrong place…

      Moderator’s note: I didn’t explain that very well! I’ll reword it: look for her replies to some of the questions asked in the comments above. Very interesting answers!

      • Gotcha! Thanks…

  32. BY: Honey, what shall we get Yunior for his birthday?

    GG: You know what he wants…

    BY: A baby brother I know but that is up to the Panda God, not me.

    GG: Have you read his blog? He has a list.

    BY: Oh and how many items are on our dear boy’s list?

    GG: Hee Hee, 68 at the last count. He keeps adding to it.

    BY: So after baby brother, what does he want?

    GG: Baby sister.

    (At this point, Bai Yun stands in front of her husband and gives him a ‘Seriously’ look of exasperation. GG looks up from his iPaw2 and grins.)

    GG: Well, No. 3 is a huge giant ice cream cake with a no 2 made of apple and honey clusters. No 4 is a enormous pizza. No 5 is a mile high boo burger….

    BY: Why does your son want so much food for? The nannykeepers are already feeding him too well.

    GG: Because he is a chip of the old son of a gun Panda Papa?

    BY: Humph, anything else?

    GG: Phone number or email address of Ms Panda Universe 2008, a ticket to Rio for the Carnival, a red corvette or thunderbird…hmm, do they make them any more? First ediition Super Panda comic book….a visit from his jie jies and ge ge…a role in Kung Fu Panda 3….a ride on an elephant or rhino….a chance to see all the animals in SDZ…a party with all the SDZ animals and nannykeepers….a new garden to redecorate….some rose bushes…hee hee, here is my favourite – one year’s supply of sweet Golden Arrow bamboo shoots…my son has taste…

    BY: Hmmm, I am kinda missing the girls and Sheng, maybe if I get them on a conference call and if Tai could pilot the Panda Plane…Mei Xiang wants to see him too and he maybe getting a sibling soon too…Let me see what I can do….

    GG: Darling, you always know best. You go girl!

    BY: Hand over your credit cards cos I need to do some serious shopping then …

    GG: (gulps) Yes, the love of my life.

    BY: And you are the centre of my universe, my sweetheart, cupcake, sugar pie honey bunny…

    GG: Eeeeee, my fur is standing, there is only so much sweet nothings I can take. Here are my cards, enjoy yourself!

    BY: You are simply the best!

    • Bai certainly has Gao Gao well trained!

  33. Wondering, if SDZ keepers will be giving our little man a box of wood shavings again; haven’t seen them for awhile, he seemed to enjoy them so much with his Mom ?????

  34. do they know if bai yun is pregnant yet ?

    Moderator’s note: Not yet.

  35. Thank you so much Dr. Durrant for your replies to questions posted on this blog! It is so very interesting. And a photo on today’s date!! Can’t wait for it to be posted. Will it be added to this blog, Moderator?

    Moderator’s note: I’m hoping Dr. Durrant will provide a blog post with the image 😉

  36. Is she pregnant?

    Moderator’s note: We don’t know yet.