Since making her entrance into the world, Zhen Zhen, fourth in the line of San Diego’s “royal family,” has captivated legions with her antics and charm. Panda Tales, airing Sunday, November 30 at 8 p.m. on WXXI-TV 21 (cable 11), chronicles the giant panda cub’s first year, from birth to birthday, at the San Diego Zoo — a year marked not only by her milestones and those of her siblings, but also by the massive earthquake in China that devastated the giant panda breeding center closely tied to the zoo’s conservation efforts.
Panda Tales highlights a time of excitement and learning — and not just for Zhen Zhen. A decade ago, the panda population in the wild was dwindling dangerously due to a low reproductive rate, a disappearing habitat and vanishing food sources. Thanks to knowledge gleaned partly 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 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 “aw”-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 endearing species.