panda cub Xiao Liwu


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.


Panda Exam: Behind the Scenes

Diagnosis: Acute Cuteness!

Diagnosis: Acute Cuteness!

I was privileged to attend panda cub Xiao Liwu’s exam Wednesday morning, January 30, my first ever, and I’m sure I will always remember my close encounter with Bai Yun’s Little Gift. I’d love to share this experience with all of you!

The exam was scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. I arrived early (naturally!) and greeted our photographer, Ken, videographer, Maria, and members of the Panda Team. A large piece of thin carpet had been laid down in the keeper work area where the panda cub exams are held, and a Kong toy, small plastic ball, leafy bamboo, a small log, and an apple slice were all in place, just as I’ve seen in the exam videos. I looked directly into the eyes of Matt Kinney, the attending veterinarian, and asked him to please make sure the six-month-old cub was fine after the many falls and tumbles he has taken. Panda fans want to know! See video below to  hear Matt’s findings.

At this time, Bai Yun was already out in the north exhibit, eating her bamboo breakfast, but the cub had been held back in the off-exhibit bedroom area for the exam. At 8:30, panda keeper Beth opened the door to the bedroom, scooped up the cutie, and placed him on the scale in the bedroom to get his weight. She called out his weight: 19.4 pounds (8.8 kilograms), and then carried him into the exam room. I gasped in delight when I saw him in her arms: Xiao Liwu in the flesh/fur/cuteness! My very first thought was how roly-poly he looked. My eyes got wet, but I tried to remain calm.

Our nutritionist, Jennifer, had been delayed, but Dr. Matt got right to work with the physical exam, as the team didn’t know how long Mr. Wu would be cooperative. The cub’s eyes, mouth, heart, body condition, and more were all checked, but I found myself watching (envying!) keeper Beth scratch and scritch the active cub to keep him in one place and keep those curious claws and teeth away from our doctor. Xiao Liwu seemed to love every minute of attention! He enjoyed the apple and grabbed onto the ball, but ignored that bamboo stuff and log. Yet the cub was silent throughout—didn’t make one peep the entire time!

I asked Ken to take some photos of Xiao Liwu’s paws, as so many fans have wondered if those paws are webbed like father Gao Gao’s. I wanted proof that they are not! Ken obliged, and I saw just a barely visible patch of gray fur on each hind leg. I tried to look for his black tail tip, but the cub kept his tail curled up. I was amazed at how close Ken and Maria were able to get with their cameras without bothering the special boy one bit!

And then, Jennifer arrived and handed me a clipboard: I was to jot down the measurements she took! That’s right: I would be doing something useful! I got to get down at cub level next to (not on) the carpet so I could hear Jennifer call out the different numbers (13 different measurements in all!). By then, Xiao Liwu was eager to explore more of the carpet. He came right over to me and TOUCHED THE CLIPBOARD WITH HIS NOSE! Now, I have a confession. Many of you were hoping I would have the chance to touch the cub and whisper sweet nothings in his ear, and I certainly could have at this point, but I did not. Why? It was such an honor to be there, to be this close, and I wanted to respect him as he was. It’s hard to explain! He was so near that I could SEE what he would feel like: a very coarse-haired chubby panda cub. It doesn’t get much better than that. Just the fact that he came over to me (and my clipboard) was all I needed to feel fulfilled (why are my eyes getting wet as I write this?). I hope you all understand.

Xiao Liwu was so unfazed by the whole exam thing, but we’ve promised guests that our little panda star can be seen on exhibit daily at 9 a.m. With a sigh, I watched as he willingly followed Beth back into the bedroom. From there, he continued ambling through the tunnel system and right on out to the exhibit, where I could see Bai Yun STILL munching on her bamboo but facing that door, as if watching for her cub’s arrival. I hear he feel asleep soon after!

I stayed behind to ask the Panda Team some of the many questions panda fans sent in, and I will share the answers in a future post. Right now, I’m still on a panda cub high!

Debbie Andreen is an editor and blog moderator for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, Panda Cub: Last Exam?

Click to enlarge chart

Click to enlarge chart


Panda Cub Learning Routine

Xiao Liwu is doing great!

Xiao Liwu is doing great!

It’s been almost three weeks since panda cub Xiao Liwu’s public debut, and he is doing a great job learning how to be a zoo panda. Xiao Liwu has become an early riser, waking up early with his mom, Bai Yun, ready to make his way out to the north exhibit. We have no problem shifting him out in the morning: he eagerly follows Bai Yun through the shift tunnel out to the exhibit, often passing his mother in the tunnel and arriving to the exhibit before his mom has time to catch up!

Once out, Xiao Liwu enjoys climbing on anything he can find: logs, toys, Mom. He continues to explore his environment, perfecting his climbing skills and nibbling on bamboo sticks. Such activity makes our boy sleepy, so Xiao Liwu tends to find a nice place to nap mid-morning. Oftentimes he ends up choosing the moat, much to the dismay of his fans, since he isn’t visible down there (unless you’re watching on Panda Cam). But lately, little Wu has been soaking up the sun on the climbing structure or napping on top of the log.

Sitting in the sun makes a panda quite hot, and you may notice Xiao Liwu panting. He will learn to seek out shade when he gets hot; this is a process all of our babies have gone through. Xiao Liwu does love water, and we have seen him playing in his water tub and the drinker. Soon we will fill the pool with a small amount of water for him to splash around in.

After a full day out on exhibit, our biggest challenge has been getting little Xiao Liwu back into his bedroom in the afternoon. Bai Yun is always ready to shift in for dinner; Mr. Wu is usually sacked out in the moat or in the climbing structure in the afternoon. Because of her trust in her keepers, we are fortunate to be able to shift Bai Yun into her bedroom for dinner without her son, giving keepers the opportunity to wake Xiao Liwu up and encourage him to come in.

Once awake and in the shift tunnel, Mr. Wu tends to roll around and play in the tunnel on his way to his mother. Bai Yun waits patiently in back for her son to make his way in. She seems to know he needs to learn to shift in as well as he shifts out in the morning.

All in all, our panda boy is doing an excellent job learning to be a zoo panda, and we are very proud of him and his amazing mother.

Elizabeth Simmons is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Big Day for Mr. Wu.


Panda Cub: Last Exam?

Xiao Liwu sits atop the "mini-Keebler" to survey his territory.

Xiao Liwu sits atop the “mini-Keebler” to survey his territory.

Our Zoo photographer, Ken Bohn, took such a cute photo of panda cub Xiao Liwu today that we just had to share it with his many fans. The 5½-month old cub has been perfecting his tree-climbing skills, much to the fascination (and horror!) of Panda Cam viewers. We know it looks scary and he could/will fall, but this is all part of learning to be a panda. Soon, Xiao Liwu will spend most of his time high up in a tree, just as he would in the wild to stay safe from predators while his mother forages for food.

Xiao Liwu’s exams are coming to a close, as he is a growing bear, and we want to treat him as such. But we do have an exam scheduled for next week. Our photographer and videographer will be there to record what may be his last exam as a cub, and guess who else will be there—ME!

Yes, after moderating panda (and other) blogs for all these years, I finally have the privilege of attending my very first panda cub exam. I am beyond excited and getting goosebumps as I write this! I promise to write about the exam in excruciating detail. I want to share my joy with all of you, our faithful blog readers! If you have a question you’d like me to ask the attending veterinarian, please let me know in the comment section. One question I’ll be sure to ask: Is Mr. Wu still fine after all of the tumbles he has taken? I’m confident the answer will be a resounding “yes,” but it’s always nice to hear it from an expert.

And rest assured that I will tell Xiao Liwu how much he is loved by all of you. I may even blow him a kiss—don’t tell Bai Yun!

Debbie Andreen is an editor and blog moderator for San Diego Zoo Global.

Adopt a panda for your Valentine!


Panda Cub: First Days on View

Will Xiao Liwu enjoy a hay-filled tub as much as he father does?

Will Xiao Liwu enjoy a hay-filled tub as much as his father does?

Panda cub Xiao Liwu has taken his first few days in view of his adoring fans in stride, and is resting as much as he can. His second day out was a little bit better than his first for guests. Keepers brought him out just before 9:30 a.m. so guests could have a better chance of seeing him awake in the north exhibit. He was placed on a platform attached to the tree, where he would have a larger surface to take a nap or possibly suck on a leaf eater biscuit. Luckily for our guests, he moved around more and began to play on his climbing structure. Guests were treated to a great view of his face, but this was short lived. The little bear eventually began to get sleepy and found a nice, warm spot to nap.

Currently, Xiao Liwu’s exhibit is only open for two hours a day (9:30 to 11:30 a.m.). As he grows and becomes more confident, he will begin to play more with Mom and use more of the enrichment items that keepers have put out for him. Currently, his favorite toy is a little ball that he likes to hug and roll with. As he becomes stronger and is able to climb higher and become more stable, we probably won’t see him on the ground as much. Once baby pandas learn how to climb, they often sleep in the trees and practice their climbing skills.

For our guests, please don’t be too surprised to find him sleeping during viewing hours. Remember: he is still a baby, and he still does need to nap periodically. Hope to see you all soon!

Anastasia Horning is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, New Scents for Pandas.

NOTE: Now that Xiao Liwu is out on exhibit for all to see, our weekly cub exams are coming to a close. After all, he is getting big and strong and will soon be too rambunctious to safely handle for measurements and check ups. He is scheduled to have an exam this week, but we won’t be providing video or photographs of this or any further exams unless time and resources permit otherwise.


Panda Cub: Exam 15

Look at those teeth!

The cuteness continues! Being a new member of the public relations team for San Diego Zoo Global, part of my job is to write about the panda exams and try to get the media to cover this little cutie. Tough job, right? You can imagine my excitement when my co-worker asked me to accompany her to the panda exam today and help write the press materials covering it. Believe me, there was almost no pause before I said “SURE, I’ll do it!”

Once we arrived, we talked with the keepers and waited until the timing was right to take the cub from the den. Food is usually a good distraction for mother Bai Yun, and she is so consumed with her special treat of apple snacks that she doesn’t seem to miss her beloved cub for the few moments they are separated. Panda keeper Jennifer Becerra brought in the swaddled cub, who seemed extra sleepy this morning and was barely even awake for the exam! He quickly got comfortable on the blue blanket that the keepers had laid out for him, and the challenging job of taking measurements began. He weighed 12.1 pounds (5.5 kilograms) and measured 25.9 inches (66 centimeters) long.

The keepers have to work quickly these days to collect the measurements they need, since Xiao Liwu is crawling more and eager to explore the new environment. Anticipating this, the keepers had laid out a variety of distractions for the cub, ranging from a ball, a chew toy, some bamboo leaves, and a piece of apple to smell. The cub nosed at the ball and climbed through the bamboo leaves, but was mostly interested in crawling around and exploring as much as possible. After the Panda Team got the measurements they needed, they let Xiao Liwu crawl around on the carpet so they could monitor his crawling progress. The cub is gaining confidence on his paws and moving quickly, so keepers had to keep a close eye to make sure he didn’t travel too far. They were careful not to keep the cub away from his mother for too long, so once the information that they need was gathered, the growing cub was brought back to his den.

Seeing this panda in person was such a great experience, and I can really understand why the public has fallen completely in love with him. I’m so excited for all of his fans to come see him once he goes on exhibit, most likely some time in January, and for everyone to experience this “little gift” in person like I did.

Ina Saliklis is a junior public relations representative for San Diego Zoo Global.

Visit our Panda Photo Gallery for more images from today’s exam.

Click on chart to enlarge.