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Panda-Mania Strikes In San Diego Many Come For Debut Of Shi Shi And Bai Yun At Zoo

Zoo Nut was there Saturday. No zoo opening is complete without him.

Maryanne Simons, a bank employee, was there, too. She owns 2,000 stuffed pandas and haunted the Los Angeles Zoo for days when pandas visited in 1984.

No way was Simons going to miss the debut of Shi Shi and Bai Yun, giant pandas now on display at the San Diego Zoo.

Annette Conway brought her sons, Todd, 10, and Sean, 12. As a psychologist, she’s intrigued by the allure that the white-and-black mammals from central China have held for the American public since the first panda came to the United States in the 1930s.

“They seem so shy,” Conway said. “They’re big and fluffy and almost unreal looking. They’re wonderful.”

Ted Raskin, a retired Marine Corps master gunnery sergeant, wanted to provide some encouragement for the reproductive task that lies ahead for Shi Shi and Bai Yun. He remembers when the San Diego Zoo had visiting pandas in 1987 and 1988.

“The habitat is much more natural this time,” he said. “We’re all here to cheer them on to do their duty: sex, sex, sex.”

Make no mistake: the phenomenon zookeepers call “panda-mania” is back. No animal in the history of U.S. zoos brings the crowds and the awestruck response of pandas.

“People are almost reverential when they walk in,” said zoo president Bill Fox.