During my visit with the Panda Team after Xiao Liwu’s exam (see post Panda Exam: Behind the Scenes), I had a chance to ask some of the questions panda fans sent in and have compiled the answers here. The best news? Xiao Liwu is doing great! He measured 34.6 inches (88 centimeters) from nose to tail, and his tail is 3.5 inches (9 centimeters) long. His size compares to that of sister Su Lin at this age. His claws became hard after just a few weeks and are now quite sharp! There may be another exam or two, depending upon Xiao Liwu’s willingness to participate. So far, he has been the most cooperative of the cubs, which is why we’ve been able to do so many exams with him. Once the exams stop, he probably won’t have one again until he is moved to another facility or is old enough to breed; any required exams will be done under anesthesia. Yun Zi hasn’t had an exam since his cub days.
And what about Bai Yun? She is the picture of health as well! Her appetite is in full bloom, as it usually is this time of year. She is not exhibiting any symptoms associated with arthritis or any other condition one might associate with an older bear. Keepers were surprised to learn that some panda fans consider her to be “cranky” with the cub, as they see her as a content mother bear.
Xiao Liwu’s continued weight gain indicates that he is getting enough milk from his mother. Although our keepers don’t witness nursing bouts, it is obvious the cub is well fed. He is weighed twice a week, and the Panda Team keeps an eye on his growth curve. The cub is eating apples when he can get them; he has to be fast, as Bai Yun likes apples, too! He also has been nibbling on the hard leaf eater biscuits, and keepers are considering soaking them a bit to make them easier for the cub to chew. In China, young bamboo shoots arrive in the springtime, just when young cubs are ready to start sampling it. Pretty neat, eh?
Now, about those falls. The substrate in both the exhibit and the garden room is comprised of lomax, rather than dirt. Lomax is much softer than dirt, so when cubbie falls, and he will, it’s not on concrete or hard-packed dirt. When he falls, he may land on his feet, his side, or his cute little bottom, but panda cubs are born stuntmen: they know how to fall and roll to prevent injury. None of our cubs, including Mr. Wu, has EVER cried out after a fall. NEVER. If he were to cry, it would sound like a loud chirp. A fun story: there was a bird in the area that made a sound similar to a cub’s distress chirp. Every time the bird made this sound, Bai Yun would rush to Xiao Liwu, who was usually sleeping in the moat, to make sure he was okay. Bai’s ears are always on the alert, perked up for any indication that her cub may need help.
Keepers describe Bai Yun’s parenting style with Xiao Liwu as “more relaxed” and say she was much rougher with Yun Zi than they have seen with Xiao Liwu. If he needs her for help getting out of a tight situation or to nurse, the cub gives a soft cry. She has not yet dunked him in the pond, which has a few inches of water in it. When he is older, he may see Yun Zi or Gao Gao when passing through the tunnel system that connects the various exhibit and bedroom spaces, but he will most likely not be given access to look at them through the howdy gate, as males are not tolerant of each other.
When Xiao Liwu and Bai Yun go off exhibit for the day, they spend their time in the garden room, sun room, and bedroom areas, and usually sleep on the platform in the garden room. Although some fans have asked if an infrared light can be set up for nighttime viewing, we think that for now we’ll give our mother and son some privacy. Maybe for the next cub….
And how does our newest cub compare to his siblings? Keepers say Xiao Liwu is unique in that he is so comfortable in his surroundings and handles new situations very well. He is a tolerant, confident, and independent young rascal who really seems to enjoy the company of his keepers. He is curious and playful and has already started target training (touching his nose to a target for a reward) much earlier than his brothers and sisters. This is probably due to his love of apples and ear scritches from his keepers, which are used as the rewards! During my time with the Panda Team, I could tell that he is well loved and well cared for, by both his mother and his keepers. What more could a little guy ask for?
Debbie Andreen is a blog moderator and associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global.