About Author: Debbie Andreen

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Entertaining Panda Cub Xiao Liwu

Xiao Liwu relaxes in his off-exhibit bedroom next to his rocking "horse." See, he likes apples!

Xiao Liwu relaxes in his off-exhibit bedroom next to his rocking “horse.” See, he likes apples!

What has our panda cub been up to, now that he’s been on his own for a few weeks? Keeper Jennifer Becerra filled me in on all things “Wu,” and I’m eager to share what I learned with Xiao Liwu’s many fans!

Jennifer says Xiao Liwu, now 20 months old, is doing quite well. He is not as playful as his older siblings have been and instead has become a bamboo-eating machine. Now weighing 70.5 pounds (32 kilograms), “Mr. Wu” eats about 22 pounds (10 kilograms) of bamboo each day—a lot for a little bear! Shunning most non-bamboo food items, he is developing a taste for Fuji apple slices and applesauce. Lately, keepers have been blending steamed carrots, yams, applesauce, and banana-flavored biscuits into a mush for him. They serve the concoction in a metal pan, which you may have seen in his enclosure.

Lest you think Wu is all about food, don’t worry. He does enjoy playing in a long, plastic tray filled with ice cubes. He climbs all over a recycled plastic “rocking horse,” which is really in the shape of a whale, that is in his off-exhibit bedroom area. And you’ll be proud to know he is doing well with his training. He already urinates on command when he hears the words “go potty”! Being able to collect this vital fluid for periodic testing is part of our animal care protocol. Mr. Wu knows how to “target” or touch his nose to a target stick, and he knows to put his paws up, paws down, and to sit when asked to do so. He also enjoys his new bedding material, called excelsior hay, that is on top of the cave structure. This hay product was on his Wish List—thank you, donors!

Ice cubes feel good on a warm day!

This ice feels good on a warm day!

And then there are scents! Our pandas love to roll and anoint themselves with different odors. Their keepers found a fragrance company that provides a huge variety of choices. They all like the smell of cinnamon, but I found it interesting that each panda also has his or her favorites. For Mr. Wu, it’s wintergreen. Bai Yun enjoys those in the mint family: wintergreen, peppermint, and spearmint. Yun Zi, who is now living in China, loved honeysuckle and earthworm! And Gao Gao? He tends to lean toward more musky scents, but his all-time favorite is rubbing alcohol!

Debbie Andreen is an associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, Delightful Tasmanian Devils.


Delightful Tasmanian Devils

Tasmanian devil Nick gets eye to eye with our photographer.

Tasmanian devil Nick gets eye to eye with our photographer.

They didn’t scream or spin around like whirling dervishes, but I found them exciting just the same as this morning we proudly unveiled the exhibit area for our new Tasmanian devils (see post Introducing our Devils). What a wonderful addition they make to the San Diego Zoo’s Australian Outback! Each of our four devils has his or her own enclosure, as these are solitary animals in the wild. Guests can view three of the enclosures, and right now, that’s where the three males—Conrad, Nick, and Jake—live. A fourth enclosure is further back and much more private, and that’s where our female, Debbie, resides at present. We are currently the only zoo in North America to have these interesting animals, and we hope to share their conservation story with our guests.

Dignitaries representing Australia and its island state of Tasmania, which is where Tasmanian devils hail from, spoke at the opening ceremony. The Honorable Brian Wightman MP, minister for environment, parks, and heritage in Tasmania, related that wild devil populations have dropped dramatically due to a deadly cancer called devil facial tumor disease. Tasmania has already lost a valuable animal, the Tasmanian tiger or thylacine, to disease and human encroachment, and Mr. Wightman said his state is determined to keep from losing another native carnivore by working with global partners. San Diego Zoo Global is a proud partner of the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program, which is based in Tasmania. Karen Lanyon, consul-general for the Australian consulate general, mentioned that the links between our zoo and her country are “getting stronger,” and she welcomed the devils to “her patch” of southern California. She told me later that the devils’ new home was “gorgeous!”

Alistair Scott, the general manager of resource management and conservation for the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment in Tasmania, admitted that Tasmanians “like to do things ourselves,” but as the devil facial tumor disease has worked its way across the state, asking for help from global partners is the right thing to do. Here’s more information on the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program

For now, our keepers are pleased that the four devils are settling in nicely to their new home and are coping well with their first look at Zoo guests. Their enclosures are filled with soft mulch for the digging activities devils crave, as well as a variety of bushes and ferns, which provide cover for the animals if wanted. What’s really neat are the dens attached to two of the enclosures: when a devil goes inside the cozy den, guests can get up nice and close for some eye-to-eye views, courtesy of the glass panels.

I learned that Jake likes to pull out newly planted vegetation and bring it into his den, which is fun for us to watch but will keep our horticulture staff busy! Nick, apparently, is the most active of the devils and seems to be a people-watcher. During the ceremony, I could see him on his hind legs in his glass-walled den, looking on with great interest! With his mouth, Conrad grabbed a large cow knuckle bone, which had to be heavy, as if it were a breakfast pastry and took off with it to parts unknown. Mr. Wightman told me that listening to devils crunch on bones is a sound you never forget! Debbie (love that name!) is the timid and shy devil of the group, yet she and Jake can see each other through a glass panel separating their enclosures, and keepers told me that both animals seem to enjoy this visual enrichment.

How will you know “who is who” when you come to welcome them? Each enclosure has a sign with the devil’s name and a bit about its personality. I was smitten with these animated animals. I hope you will be, too!

Debbie Andreen is an associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, The Scoop on Panda Poop.


The Scoop on Panda Poop

Yun Zi munches his bamboo like a pro!

Yun Zi munches his bamboo like a pro!

I spoke with panda narrator Alyssa Medeiros to get the latest on our bamboo bears. Alyssa has been helping the San Diego Zoo’s Panda Team as a panda keeper these days and promises to write a blog about that experience when she can. In the meantime, she shared some fun stuff about our two youngest bears.

Yun Zi is a typical “teenaged mess maker,” according to Alyssa. This four year old panda continues to rip and shred anything he can get his paws on. Yet his most challenging mess for keepers to clean is his location of choice for bathroom duties. Yun Zi has decided that the top of the artificial den is the perfect spot. Why does this make extra work for his caretakers? The poop goes into the den’s nooks and crannies, making it more difficult to clean. Apparently, he cares not!

Xiao Liwu, nicknamed Mr. Wu, is now leaving “treasures” behind. Previously, his mother, Bai Yun, would clean up any waste her cub left behind, presumably so predators would not be alerted to his presence. But now that he is larger and starting to ingest, rather than just mouth, bamboo leaves, he is producing “little gifts.” Apparently, Bai Yun is willing to let keepers dispose of them these days. Talk about room service! Alyssa says that Mr. Wu is also chewing on sticks and attempting to peel the larger bamboo culms—an advanced skill for a panda boy of just 14 months. He has not attempted to chew those culms yet but often mouths some of Bai Yun’s shredded leftovers.

Xiao Liwu’s training sessions continue, and Alyssa is quite proud of his progress. He has learned to touch his nose to a pool buoy on a stick (it looks like a very large Q-tip!) and to a dot on the wall for a honey water reward. And he is getting better at shifting off the exhibit and into his bedroom when asked.

Thank you for the update, Alyssa!

Debbie Andreen is an associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, Our Panda Family.


Our Panda Family

Mother and son enjoy a playful moment on Panda Cam.

Mother and son enjoy a playful moment on Panda Cam.

What’s that little panda rascal been up to these days? I spoke with Senior Keeper Kathy Hawk this morning to get the latest on the panda family at the San Diego Zoo. Let’s start with Xiao Liwu, our one-year-old cutie. He likes to do things on his own time. Kathy knows he knows what is expected of him when keepers call him to come over to the back fence line for some of that tasty honey water, and to then shift into his bedroom, but he doesn’t always feel like coming. Sometimes he’d just rather stay up in his favorite tree or nap in his hammock. Kathy assured me this is very typical of cubs this age!

“Mr. Wu” is eating bits of bamboo leaves and stems and apple slices but is still more interested in Mama Bai Yun’s milk bar, which again is natural at this age. In a few months, he’ll become more food motivated. Kathy mentioned that he is more aware of and interested in his surroundings rather than just focused on what Mom is doing. Mr. Wu now weighs 53 pounds (24 kilograms).

Bai Yun is “looking really good,” says Kathy. She is eating well and maintaining a nice, consistent weight for a nursing panda at 214 pounds (97.3 kilograms). And we all saw how much she enjoyed her birthday cake two weeks ago!

Her older son, Yun Zi, had his annual vaccination and his very first blood draw, with Keeper Jen Becerra assisting. You may notice the shaved spot on his arm. Kathy was very proud of his cooperation with Jen during this procedure. Four-year-old Yun Zi now weighs 197.7 pounds (89.7 kilograms), long ago surpassing his father in heft. What a big boy!

Gao Gao is also doing well, keeping cool and comfy in his off-exhibit area. Apparently, our father panda has never been a fan of warmer weather but doesn’t always exercise common sense about finding ways to cool off. Therefore, keepers proactively bring him into his air-conditioned bedrooms if it starts to get too warm for him. Kathy shared that Gao Gao LOVES attention from his keepers and solicits back scratches from them by calling to them, rubbing up against the chain link safety barriers, or sucking on his paws in a way that she said is so endearing that she can’t help but give him a scritch or two. To help with his digestion on warmer days, he is given probiotics, hidden in a Gao Gao favorite: applesauce. His preferred position for enjoying this treat? On his back, looking adorable! I sense another back scratch coming…

Debbie Andreen is an associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, Xiao Liwu: A Gentle Soul.


Xiao Liwu: A Gentle Soul

Xiao Liwu continues to grow, learn, and thrive at the San Diego Zoo.

Xiao Liwu continues to grow, learn, and thrive at the San Diego Zoo.

I spoke with long-time panda keeper Kathy Hawk to get an update on our youngest panda, Xiao Liwu, who is now one year old. She described him as a gentle soul—at least so far! “He’s different from his siblings. He’s very mellow around us.” Keepers are still able to enter the exhibit when he is in there, and he doesn’t treat them like a toy to play with or a tree to try to climb like our previous cubs have done.

Kathy explained that the “light bulb” has gone off in his head, and Xiao Liwu now seems to understand that a delicious honey water treat is his reward if he comes when keepers call him. As such, “Mr. Wu” is more consistently starting to shift from his exhibit enclosure to his bedroom when asked. Here’s how it works: a keeper stands at the fence line and calls his name. If Mr. Wu comes over, whether down from the tree or from playing or sleeping, and touches his nose to a target, the keeper clicks a clicker to let him know he did as asked and rewards him with sips of honey water. Kathy said our little man LOVES that honey water! However, Xiao Liwu is “still a baby,” and, although he now understands what is asked of him, he may not always choose to comply! Sound familiar to you parents out there?

Xiao Liwu is nibbling on bamboo a bit but prefers apple slices and folivore biscuits that have been soaked in water for him. At this stage in his life, he does not compete with his mother, Bai Yun, for the biscuits or the bamboo. Mr. Wu still spends a good deal of time up in the trees, as cubs do at this age, and this does not bother keepers or his mother. Kathy has never heard Bai Yun call for him to come down!

Kathy also described that all six panda cubs she has worked with have gone through a stage where they get extra-sensitive to noise and react strongly to sudden, loud sounds by running or walking quickly, or even frothing at the mouth. Perhaps their sense of hearing becomes more acute at this age, and they react to sounds they ignored as toddlers. You may see this now with Mr. Wu, but Kathy wanted to reassure panda fans that this, too, shall pass!

Snow day for all of our pandas will be on Thursday, August 29. Approximately 30,000 pounds of snow will be blown into the exhibits early that morning, and the pandas will be released into the white stuff around 8 a.m. for Panda Cam viewers to enjoy, including some for Gao Gao. The Zoo opens at 9 a.m., and if you’re lucky enough to be here that day, do come and watch the fun!

This special snow day enrichment for our pandas was made possible by generous donors who contributed to the Zoo’s online Animal Care Wish List. There are other items on this month’s Wish List for our pandas, such as composite wood for custom-made toys, perfume, bark logs, and coconuts, starting at just $9. Other Zoo bears have added their wish list requests as well, including snowballs in $10 increments for our polar bears. Check it out!

Debbie Andreen is an associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global.


Panda Party: Wu Hoo!

Giant Panda Climbs Cake During First Birthday at San Diego ZooToday we celebrated Xiao Liwu’s first birthday, with the help of a delicious 200-pound ice cake, colorful gifts, and adoring panda fans.

The cake was beautiful to look at as well as tasty for the birthday boy and his mother, Bai Yun. It was tinged orange with a “frosting” of mashed carrots and sweet potatoes and had the words “Mr. Wu” on the base and the large “1” on the top. There were several cardboard boxes on the ground, some painted to look like presents, one in the shape of a gorilla, and one as a giraffe, all filled with hay and biscuits. Several small pink boxes decorated with little pandas were hanging from the tree like piñatas and filled with goodies, too.

There was some concern that the cub would stay up in the tree for the festivities, but he was down when keepers came in this morning and so joined his mother in the bedroom while the exhibit was decorated. When all the goodies were in place, the door was opened to release the pair, and we all held our collective breath, cameras at the ready. It took a few minutes before Bai Yun came out and promptly ripped open the first present she came to before plopping down at the edge of the pool, with her nose seeming to touch the surface. Xiao Liwu hung back at first, but as his mother rested, he came around the front and spied the “gorilla,” which gave him a start! But he recovered and meandered up to the cake, sat right in front of it, and started to explore it gingerly with his mouth and nose. Soon, Bai Yun joined him there, and they seemed to share it quite well.

Keepers were not surprised at his mellow reaction to the cake, and I’m sure everyone there got great photos of our now 42-pound panda boy. He even climbed into the tree to grab at the little piñatas, making for more photo opportunities. I noticed even Yun Zi was interested, climbing high in his artificial tree to better see what all the fuss was about next door. His turn for an ice cake will come next week, August 5, when he turns four.

Happy birthday, Mr. Wu!

Debbie Andreen is an associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global.

Celebrate Xiao Liwu’s first birthday with a limited-edition adoption package! This “little gift” for your loved one includes an exclusive Xiao Liwu certificate of adoption.


Yun Zi: Teen Appetite

Yun Zi chows down. He's the biggest eater in the family now!

Yun Zi chows down. He’s the biggest eater in the family now!

It was another calm and peaceful morning in Panda Trek today. My goal? To find out what Yun Zi’s been up to! Kathy Hawk, senior keeper, filled me in while cleaning the takins’ large enclosure. I tell you—these keepers are great at multi-tasking.

Xiao Liwu was way up high in the pine tree, Bai Yun was gracefully draped on the branch above the den, and Yun Zi was sleeping on the ground facing the pool and surrounded by fresh stalks of bamboo. When he wakes up, all he’ll have to do is turn over for his next snack!

Kathy said Yun Zi, who will be four years old next month, seems to enjoy being back in the main viewing area. He loves his swing (a round, hard-plastic disc suspended from branches), but it is one of many activity items that rotate in and out for him to play with so no one thing gets too “old.” He also likes to pull out the plants that adorn his new artificial tree, but Kathy said it’s no problem for keepers to put them back in place. (He sure has THEM trained, doesn’t he?)

Our big boy is mellowing out, but he is now our best bamboo eater with a typical teen-age appetite. New for our pandas: banana- and cinnamon-flavored biscuits! They still contain all the nutrients of our standard biscuits for leaf-eating animals, but with the added taste of banana or cinnamon. These new biscuits have been a big hit with Bai Yun and Yun Zi—they LOVE them!—but Gao Gao prefers to eat them only when drizzled with honey. On a side note, Kathy shared that the Zoo’s tufted deer absolutely love the banana-flavored biscuits. Who knew?!

Debbie Andreen is an associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global.


Beautiful Bai Yun

This is Bai Yun in 2005 and shows the bamboo leaves.

This is Bai Yun in 2005 with some leafy bamboo.

I sometimes spend way too much time in front of my computer! This morning, I decided to check on my panda friends in person, rather than on Panda Cam, something I don’t do often enough. The Zoo was just opening for the day, so I was one of the first people to enter the panda viewing area, and it was cool and peaceful.

Mr. Wu was high in the tree–I think guests riding our Skyfari aerial tram could see him better than I could! But mama Bai Yun was right up front, sitting on her haunches and contentedly eating breakfast. It struck me hard how gorgeous she is! And how large she is! She had a huge pile of bamboo “tips” to her right. By tips, I mean long, thin branches with rich-green leaves. She would grab a clump of the branches and, with one sweeping motion of her mouth, peel the leaves right off so that they stuck out of the side of her mouth briefly before she swallowed them. In any other creature, it would have looked comical, but there is a grace and confidence about Bai Yun that inspires admiration and awe.

I stood watching her as she calmly ate in this fashion. She paused and looked me right in the eye (be still, my heart!), and then she continued her meal. I finally tore myself away from her to see what Yun Zi was doing in the enclosure next door. He was on top of the artificial den, flat on his back and sound asleep. But that’s okay: Bai Yun and I shared a beautiful summer morning. What a great way to start the day. I may have to do this more often!

Debbie Andreen is an associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, New Koala Exhibit Now Open.


New Koala Exhibit Now Open

Female koala Tonahleah and her 10-month-old male joey, Gummy, settle into their new digs at the all-new Conrad Prebys Australian Outback exhibit at the San Diego Zoo.

Female koala Tonahleah and her 10-month-old male joey, Gummy, settle into their new digs at the all-new Conrad Prebys Australian Outback exhibit at the San Diego Zoo.

It was a glorious morning today as we celebrated the official opening of the San Diego Zoo’s brand-new exhibit, the Conrad Prebys Australian Outback. At last, our koalas have more space to do what they do best: look adorable even while sound asleep! In the koalas’ former exhibit, the animals had to take turns being outside, as there wasn’t enough exhibit space to allow them all (21 of ‘em!) out at once. But now there’s room for all, including 3 joeys ranging in age from 8 to 10 months.

This dancer's depictions of Australian birds were spot on and fun to watch.

This dancer’s depictions of Australian birds were spot on and fun to watch.

The opening ceremony included remarks from San Diego Zoo Global’s chairman, Rick Gulley, representatives of the Yugambeh-language people of Australia’s Gold Coast, supported by Dreamworld, and Australia Consulate General Karen Lanyon, who declared the new exhibit “fantastic—a piece of Australia!” We were treated to a traditional welcome song and intricate dances depicting various birds as part of the opening.

Australian Outback is a 3-acre area home to our famous koalas as well as wallabies, wombats, and 23 species of Australian birds. But for me this morning, it was all about the koalas and their new care facility. Designed to look like a Queenslander-style house, it features large viewing windows so guests can see the copious amounts of eucalyptus housed in a giant walk-in cooler and watch koala keepers prepare that eucalyptus for their charges to nibble on at their leisure. Wrapped around three quarters of the “house” are the koala enclosures: 10 individual enclosures for the male koalas, who apparently prefer a life of quiet solitude, and 2 bigger enclosures for the females, who don’t mind company. It is the larger of these enclosures that is now featured on Koala Cam. Basically, there are now LOTS of opportunities to view koalas as you make your way around the house.

The koala care center can be seen in the background. Koala enclosures wrap around it on three sides.

The koala care center can be seen in the background. Koala enclosures wrap around it on three sides.

The keepers I talked to this morning had big grins as they shared how nice this new facility is for the koalas. Sometimes koalas can be unpredictable with changes, but Chris Hamlin Andrus, the animal care manager for the area, said that all of the koalas are doing remarkably well so far in their new home. She is so grateful to Conrad Prebys, other donors, and their love for animals for donating the funds to make it all possible. Zoo Veterinarian Geoff Pye is glad the koalas all have a chance to be in the fresh air and sunshine, which will reduce possible vitamin D deficiency, as our koalas have been prone to hip dysplasia in the past.

I chatted with Zoo guests to get some of their impressions as they strolled around. “Loved it!” and “Awesome” were expressions I heard often. One guest declared that the lighting is so much better in the new exhibit—better for photographers! I hope our koala fans will make plans to visit soon. Be sure to bring your camera!

Debbie Andreen is an associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global.


New Digs for Xiao Liwu

Bai Yun and Xiao Liwu relax in the off-exhibit garden room.

Bai Yun and Xiao Liwu relax in the off-exhibit garden room.

Big changes are happening for our almost eight-month-old panda boy, Xiao Liwu, as we do a panda exhibit swap (it sounds like a dance, doesn’t it?) at the San Diego Zoo’s Panda Trek. Gao Gao was moved from the exhibit in the main viewing area Monday night, and that exhibit was then cub-proofed for Mr. Wu’s arrival this morning. This included a lot of tree trimming, which had  not been needed for his more earth-bound father, Gao Gao!

During this transition time, the cub is learning to negotiate the access tunnel that leads him from his bedroom suite to a brand-new world of delights. This morning he was given access to that exhibit and immediately climbed up the tall pine tree, a typical response for a cub his age. Mother and cub have access to their bedroom in case they want a little retreat now and then for the next few days, so you may or may not see them, depending on their wishes. We regret that this means that some Zoo guests and Panda Cam viewers may not be able to see the youngest panda at all times. We apologize for this inconvenience but know that our panda fans will understand that sometimes our need to care for our pandas takes precedence over making them available for viewing. Soon, however, adoring fans will be able to see little brother in the enclosure next to big brother Yun Zi’s enclosure in the main viewing area all day long.

Gao Gao will move to Mr. Wu’s former haunt, the north/classroom exhibit, later this week. The north exhibit will be open to private tours and education programs only, but Gao can still be seen on Panda Cam. Yun Zi will continue to be in his exhibit with his new artificial tree.

We still have another exhibit renovation to do to Yun Zi’s exhibit, adding more plants and sod. Plus, keepers hope to add a cross log to the Keebler so they can rehang his hammock and have places to attach his swing.

One other change that will be happening has to do with comments sent to all our blogs. Soon, all comments will post automatically–you won’t have to wait for a moderator to approve your comments! We hope this will increase your enjoyment of our blog section and give you a chance to more quickly and easily interact with other panda fans. Please know that due to the increased volume on our many social media channels, we will be unable to respond to all comments or questions. Comments will be monitored and any comment that is deemed inappropriate will be removed. This change will occur later this week and will be noted in the comment box. Enjoy!

Debbie Andreen is a blog moderator (soon to be blog monitor!) and associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global.