Lilburn man in panda relations
Gwinnett resident mediates between China, Zoo Atlanta teams to ensure bears' health

LAWRENCEVILLE - Working with giant pandas is one of the unique aspects of Dr. Jinping Yu's job.

The Lilburn resident and conservation biologist is director of China conservation and education at Zoo Atlanta.

Yu, 44, was born in China, where his interest in animals and nature was fostered during his youth spent in the countryside.

"My main life besides going to school was being with nature," he said. "When I was very little I was quite interested in all kinds of animals."

Yu was particularly drawn to the study of biology in high school.

"I was always the best in the class because I played with these (animals) every day," he said.

Yu attended college in China, continuing his studies in biology before beginning a graduate program during which he studied in the United States. After moving to the U.S., Yu obtained his doctorate degree in zoology from Auburn University, where he researched rare mammalian species.

Yu has worked at Zoo Atlanta for 8 years.

"The reason that I come to Zoo Atlanta is basically because of panda," he said.

Yu said the two teams managing the facility's giant pandas, a Chinese team and a team from Atlanta, were having difficulty working together because of cultural differences.

"When things don't go well, the panda would suffer," said Yu, who was brought in to help mediate between the two teams.

"I have tried very hard to sort of straighten up the relationship ... based on my understanding of the two cultures, the political systems, how people do things differently," he said.

Yu said the teams are working well together and the pandas at Zoo Atlanta are thriving.

Yu interacts with the pandas on a daily basis during critical times, such as breeding seasons, and whenever there is a problem. He spent quite a bit of time at the zoo, even staying overnight, when a new panda cub was born in August to Lun Lun and Yang Yang, parents of Atlanta's famous panda cub Mei Lan, which was born in 2006.

An online poll is being conducted to select the name for the new panda cub, and the winning name will be announced at the cub's 100 day naming celebration Dec. 8, which reflects a custom in many regions of China in which parents, friends and family honor children on their 100th day of life with gifts and wishes for health, longevity and prosperity. Anyone who wishes to vote on the panda's name can do so online at www.zooatlanta.org until 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Yu and his wife, Jintao He, have two daughters, 14-year-old Cecelia and 5-year-old Emily.

SideBar: If you vote

What: To name Zoo Atlanta's giant panda cub

When: Before 4 p.m. Dec. 4

Where: Online at www.zooatlanta.org

Voters can choose from the following names:

· Xiao Laoxiong - (pronounced shao-laoshong) means little buddy and was submitted by the zoo's giant panda keepers

· Xiao Nan - (pronounced shao-nahn) means little man and was submitted by Zoo Atlanta staff and volunteers

· Hua Sheng - (pronounced hwa-shung) means peanut and was submitted by Zoo Atlanta members

· Xi Lan - (pronounced shee-lahn) means Atlanta's joy and was submitted by the Zoo Atlanta Board of Directors

· Wei Sheng - (pronounced way-shung) means greatness is born and was submitted by Zoo Atlanta's MySpace community

· Shu Shu - (pronounced shoo-shoo) means kind and gentle and was submitted by B98.5 FM

· Wei Li - (pronounced way-lee) means large and strong and was submitted by 92.9 Dave FM

· Ling Li - (pronounced ling-lee) means alert and quick and was submitted by VIVA 105.7FM

· Shen Shi Lan - (pronounced shen-shuh-lahn) means Atlanta's gentleman and was submitted by Star 94 FM

· Li Lan - (pronounced lee-lahn) means Atlanta's strength and was submitted by V103 FM

· Fu Mei - (pronounced foo-may) means handsome and happy boy and was submitted by residents of Chengdu, China

· Mei Chuan - (pronounced may-shwan) means handsome Sichuan boy and was submitted by residents of Chengdu, China