panda Xiao Liwu


How to Take a Panda’s Blood Pressure: 8 Easy Steps

Liz offer Xiao Liwu a treat while his blood pressure is taken.

Liz offer Xiao Liwu a treat while his blood pressure is taken.

You may recall that in early June, keepers began training giant panda Xiao Liwu to have his blood pressure taken (see post Xiao Liwu: Star Student!). “Mr. Wu” learned to put his forelimb (arm) in the metal sleeve and lightly grab the bar at the end of that sleeve with his claws the first day of training. That was Step 1. But what were the next steps? Keeper Liz Simmons filled me in.

Step 2: Panda to keep arm in metal sleeve for increased lengths of time.

This was easy, says Liz. As long as Mr. Wu was getting rewarded for calmly staying in one spot with his arm in the metal sleeve, he was happy to sit there all day! Squirts of honey water were the big ticket items for our boy, but he was (and still is) also willing to do this step for pieces of apple, carrot, sweet potato, and biscuits (soaked, not dry).

Step 3: Get panda used to having arm touched.

Talk about a fun task! Keepers touched, poked, and rubbed Xiao Liwu’s arm while it was in the sleeve. He, of course, had been touched a lot when he was small, but now that he’s such a big bear (almost 100 pounds), keepers might give his ears or head a scratch through the metal mesh but don’t usually touch his arms. He had to get comfortable with them touching his arm. No problem!

Step 4: Wrap blood pressure cuff around panda’s arm.

We use the same type of blood pressure cuff used for humans, but in Mr. Wu’s case, a child-size one. This step involved pulling apart the Velcro strips and attaching the cuff to our two-ear-old bear’s arm so he could get used to the feel of the cuff. YIKES—Wu did NOT like the sound of the Velco ripping apart! He had never heard that sound before.

Step 5: Get panda used to sound of Velcro ripping.

Liz ripped the Velcro in Xiao Liwu’s vicinity every chance she got to get him used to this new sound. She even called him over to her while he was on exhibit and ripped that Velcro. It didn’t take long for Mr. Wu to become desensitized to the sound of Velcro. (Now, when I hear Velcro ripping, I’ll always think of our panda boy!)

Step 6: Wrap blood pressure cuff around panda’s arm (again)

With Velcro issues a thing of the past, keepers could now proceed to wrap the cuff on his arm. No problem this time!

Step 7: Get panda used to having his arm squeezed.

Once the cuff was in place, a keeper squeezed her hand around the cuff to simulate the feel of a blood pressure squeeze. No problem there!

Step 8: Hook up cuff to blood pressure machine, place cuff on panda, and take a reading.

On November 3, 2014, Xiao Liwu had his first blood pressure reading. Actually, he was so comfortable and calm during the procedure that keepers took three readings. Mr. Wu has passed!

For now, these blood pressure readings will provide a baseline for our medical team. They will be done every week or so, as time allows. Xiao Liwu is happy to cooperate. Liz says he “really like to work!”

Next up for our star student? Blood-draw training.

Debbie Andreen is an associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, Pandas On and Off.


Pandas On and Off

Xiao Liwu takes a stroll.

Xiao Liwu takes a stroll.

Changes are happening at the San Diego Zoo, and all for the better, of course! Ground was broken for our new Asian leopard habitat, to be located next to Panda Trek in our Panda Canyon (see NEWS blog dated October 9). With the preparation and construction of this wonderful new home for our snow leopards and Amur leopards comes noise. We try to keep noise to a minimum in our giant panda area.

Bai Yun seems to take almost all construction noise in stride—she’s had years of experience at the Zoo! Her son Xiao Liwu has been the least bothered by noise of all six cubs Bai Yun has raised. Still, as construction progresses, panda keepers may take “Mr. Wu” off exhibit from time to time or move him to the north yard if they find he is bothered by the noise. He could still be seen by our Panda Cam viewers but not by Zoo guests. Gao Gao will continue to remain off exhibit during this time.

Where there's 'boo, there's bliss!

Where there’s ‘boo, there’s bliss!

But the good news is that a television monitor tuned to Panda Cam has been installed in our main gift shop! If you come to the Zoo, you can check on Panda Cam to see who is visible before making your way down to Panda Trek. And our wonderful volunteer Panda Cam operators will always strive to give you the best possible view of one of our pandas.

Debbie Andreen is an associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, Well, Chinook?


Xiao Liwu’s First 2 Years

Here he comes. Watch out, snow!

Here he comes. Watch out, snow!

We’ve put together a fun video showing some of panda Xiao Liwu’s milestones (see below). The video was made for our San Diego Zoo Kids channel, a television broadcast channel featuring programming about unique and endangered animals species designed to entertain and educate guests about wildlife around the world. It is shown in select children’s hospitals on their in-room televisions. The channel features video from our famous Panda Cam as well as other live, online cameras, fun and educational pieces about a variety of animals, and up-close video encounters of popular animals with our national spokesperson, Rick Schwartz.

The San Diego Zoo Kids channel is funded by a generous gift by businessman and philanthropist Denny Sanford. We thought “Mr. Wu’s” many fans would like to see this video, too. Enjoy!


Panda Xiao Liwu is Two

Xiao Liwu's birthday cake was a thing of beauty!

Xiao Liwu’s birthday cake had a beach theme, complete with tiki torches!

Our birthday boy picked an especially warm day for his party, and who knows how long his ice cake will last, but it was a thing of beauty! The two-year-old panda’s party had a beach theme, so his exhibit was decorated with cardboard beach balls, jellyfish, and seahorses dangling here and there, cardboard gift boxes, and a pile of wood shavings to represent beach sand.

The birthday cake was topped with a large blue “2,” which didn’t stay upright for long, and an orange “tiki torch” on each side. Mr. Wu seemed delighted with his surprise, climbing up on it to get every last bit of apple. When, most likely, his tongue and bottom got too cold, he retired to the log bridge to nap in the warm sun.


Our cake team spent several weeks preparing this special treat for Xiao Liwu. It was about 4 feet (1.2 meters) tall, weighed over 100 pounds (45 kilograms), and had layers supported by bamboo poles. It was so colorful, too! Bright blues and oranges. Knowing that apples are “Mr. Wu’s” favorite snack, the team filled the cake with apple slices frozen in the ice blocks. Slices of carrots, yams, bamboo, and more apples were arranged in a depression on the top of the cake, which was drizzled with a yam paste “frosting.”

If he gets too warm today, he’ll still have that beautiful ice cake to sit on! Video of Xiao Liwu enjoying his morning when it becomes available, so be sure to check back. (Update: video has been added. Enjoy!)


Keeper Jennifer Becerra hangs a cardboard beach ball as part of the decorations.

Xiao Liwu 2nd birthday cake

It took three strong cake team members to bring in the 100-pound cake.

The cake awaits the Birthday Panda.

The cake awaits the Birthday Panda.

Ooh, this cake feels good!

Ooh, this cake feels good!

Happy birthday, Xiao Liwu, our Little Gift!

San Diego Zoo Global is working with a number of international partners worldwide to save species like the giant panda. You can become one of our valued partners in conservation by supporting us today!


Xiao Liwu: Star Student!

Xiao Liwu now eats more bamboo than his mother does!

Xiao Liwu now eats more bamboo than his mother does!

Keeper Jen Becerra passed along some updates on the San Diego Zoo’s panda family, starting with Xiao Liwu, who will be two years old next month (how time flies!). Jen claims “Mr. Wu” has been the easiest of Bai Yun’s six cubs to train, and she marvels how each of her cubs has been progressively smarter, with Mr. Wu at the head of the class! Yesterday he began training for blood draws and blood pressure checks, done with the help of a metal sleeve. The panda is asked to put his or her arm in the sleeve and grab the bar at the end (see post Still Ga Ga for Gao Gao.) An apple slice is placed near the end of the sleeve for the panda to grab for, and after several weeks of this, the bear learns to grab the bar at the end of that sleeve to receive the reward. Well, Xiao Liwu stuck his arm in the sleeve on his first try AND grabbed the bar on the end, as if he’d been doing it all his life! Jen kept using the word amazing to describe how the first day of this training went. Just a few months ago, keepers were concerned that Wu would be challenging to train because he prefers bamboo to other food items used for rewards. But it seems that for Mr. Wu, interaction with his keepers is reward enough!

Xiao Liwu has broadened his food menu but is still rather particular about its presentation. Still a huge fan of bamboo and apples, he has added to his repertoire low-starch, high-fiber biscuits (only if they are soaked in water first), and sweet potatoes and carrots (but only if they are cut into sticks). And speaking of bamboo, he now eats MORE of it than his mother, Bai Yun, does. Yes, you read that right! Wu polishes off 11 to 13 pounds (5 to 6 kilograms) of bamboo each day, whereas Bai Yun eats 8 to 11 pounds (4 to 5 kilograms). Gao Gao is the biggest eater of the three, downing 15 to 17 pounds (7 to 8 kilograms) daily. Xiao Liwu’s current weight is 84 pounds (38 kilograms).

Our growing boy seems quite comfortable in the main viewing exhibit and doesn’t call to his mother or look for her in any way. The feeling is mutual, as these days Bai Yun’s attitude is “It’s all about me!” When not eating his bamboo, Xiao Liwu spends time in buckets of ice or in front of the mister fan but doesn’t play much with his enrichment toys. Jen says he’s like “an adult bear in a small body.” Wu is a fan of various enrichment scents, with wintergreen, peppermint, and cinnamon his top three fragrances.

Gao Gao continues his recovery from his surgery and is spending more time in the north yard, off exhibit to guests but where he may be seen on Panda Cam. He still prefers hanging out in his bedroom suite, where keepers are at his beck and call. Jen admits that Gao Gao has come up with a special vocalization used just for them—a sweet, light bleat that seems to mean “Come here, please.” When the keeper comes, there is Papa Gao, pressed up to the mesh for a back scratch. Who could resist that request?

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


Panda Cub: Answers

Can he get any cuter?

Can he get any cuter?

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.

For those who have a thing for paws, here's a close-up view of Xiao Liwus' hind foot.

For those who have a thing for paws, here’s a close-up view of Xiao Liwus’ hind foot.

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.

I'm diligently jotting down Mr. Wu's measurements for nutritionist Jennifer Parsons. The green door leads to the cub's bedroom; the fenced door opens into the garden room.

I diligently noted Mr. Wu’s measurements for nutritionist Jennifer Parsons. The green door leads to the cub’s bedroom; the door to the left opens into the garden room.

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.


Panda Cub: Adventurer

Let's play some more!

Ready to play some more, son?

Xiao Liwu was very active today, January 29, in Panda Trek’s north exhibit. At first he was on top of his tree stump, sleeping away in the hay as cozy as can be. He slept for at least an hour and a half. The six-month-old finally woke up and began his adventure of climbing on tree limbs and exploring in the exhibit. He tried chewing on some bamboo leaves, just as mama Bai Yun does. I always notice he tries to copy Mom as much as he can. Wu then was interested in the plants, biting at the little branches and leaves. He’s very interested in the world around him. I always notice he will try biting on different leaves and branches.

Then he wanted to play with Bai Yun, which our guests love to see! They were wrestling and playing in the bin full of hay. He practices his bear skills while playing, just like humans learn while they play! One of my favorite moments of the morning was when he would run after Bai Yun and try to bite her on her bottom. He just makes me laugh!

Sometimes he can be so stubborn with his one-track mind, but it always makes for good stories and a great experience for our guests. As the morning came to an end, Xiao Liwu enjoyed playing in the bushes exploring the flowers and leaves. This “little gift” is quite a little adventurer!

Alyssa Medeiros is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Panda Cub: Little Gift.


Panda Cub: The Den

A boy and his moat!

A boy and his moat!

As of January 17, Bai Yun showed us keepers that she is done using her den. How? By leaving a fecal sample in there. When this happens, we clean the den (remove the bedding and disinfect the floor) and close the den door for good. Xiao Liwu is now old enough where he will be spending most of his time high in the trees with Mom.

Some of our panda fans have been curious to know about our panda cub’s nursing activity. Xiao Liwu and Bai Yun both decide with he nurses these days. He seems to nurse early mornings and early evenings. I am sure he nurses throughout the day, as we are not always watching, but it’s not on a regular schedule, since he nurses when he wants to!

We do weigh him regularly and have the nutritionist look at him to body score him. The body score is a great tool to measure body fat and hydration levels. At his exam on January 15, Xiao Liwu weighed 17 pounds (7.8 kilograms) and measured 33 inches (85 centimeters) long.

Click to enlarge chart

Click to enlarge chart

One of our readers asked if baby pandas shed their coats, like human babies get new hair later on? When panda cubs start getting fur, it has a slightly pink tinge to it. We call it “baby fur.” As they reach around 5 to 6 months, the pink fur does grow out and shed. Have any of you noticed this with Xiao Liwu?

Jennifer Becerra is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Happy 10th Anniversary, Gao Gao.


Panda Cub to Make Debut

Come see the little tyke in person!

Come see the little tyke in person!

You’ve been waiting to learn when our adorable panda cub, Xiao Liwu, will make his public debut. Well, wonder no more! The official date is this Thursday, January 10, at 9:30 a.m.

Many of you have wondered why Xiao Liwu has not been seen much on Panda Cam these days. That’s because his mother, Bai Yun, has led him out into what we call the north exhibit for a few weeks now, out of our camera’s view. Now, the Panda Team feels our five-month-old cub has become confident enough to navigate around this large habitat while being admired by his adoring fans! We’ve installed a new HD camera in the north exhibit, so those not able to see him “in the fur” can continue watching his progress via Panda Cam.

Please know that the north exhibit will only be open for two hours for the first few weeks (9:30 to 11:30 a.m.) to help the cub acclimate to his many fans. As he gets more comfortable, that time will increase. Please also know that Xiao Liwu seems to like being in the exhibit’s moat, so he may be “on exhibit” but “out of sight.” However, his father, Gao Gao, and big brother Yun Zi will continue to be available for viewing in the main Panda Trek exhibits, so you are bound to see from one to four pandas on your next visit!

Debbie Andreen is a blog moderator for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, Elephant Antics.

UPDATE: Our Panda Cam will show Xiao Liwu’s employee and media preview on Wednesday, January 9, from 8 to 9 a.m.


Big Changes for Little Bears

Xiao Liwu is working on his motor skills.

In recent weeks, a lot has been happening with our bear population at the San Diego Zoo. In particular, some of our smallest bears have been undergoing significant transitions to their daily routine.

Our panda cub is preparing for his debut on exhibit. For him, this is a natural progression as his skill set advances, and he becomes more agile. A month or so ago, Xiao LiWu was a fairly immobile little bear, content to sleep for hours inside the den while his mother stretched her legs in other areas of the facility. Now, his ability to crawl has transformed into good walking skills, and he is ambling around regularly.

Recently, the cub walked, on his own, a good distance toward the north exhibit where he will first meet his admiring public. He got nearly to the door of that exhibit when he encountered a barrier: a slider door in the open position jutted into his travel path about a foot. He investigated the slider and pressed up against it, spending several minutes working the problem this obstacle presented. Ultimately, he couldn’t quite figure out how to go around, as his mother had done on her pass through the tunnel. Deterred, he turned around and headed back to the den for a nap. Before he is regularly on exhibit, he will have figured out how to overcome little adversities like this one.

Our other small bears, the sun bears, have also undergone some transitions in the last few weeks. After unsuccessful pairing attempts for Marcella and Francis earlier this year, we moved Francis to an off-exhibit area where he could receive lots of human attention and training opportunities. The quiet time away from public viewing seemed to serve him well, and he slowly settled into a nice routine. In the fall, we began to acclimate him to a new exhibit near the foot of bear canyon, an area some of our other bears had done very well in. With a slow-moving protocol, we were finally able to get Francis comfortable being on exhibit.

In December, we moved Marcella out of the exhibit on Sun Bear Trail and placed her adjacent to Francis in an exhibit on Center Street. We want her close by the male should she cycle again, but we didn’t want to move Francis away from a place he seems comfortable in. Thankfully, Marcella has been quite adaptable with moves like this, and she is settling in fine. Shortly after her move up the hill, keepers noted that Francis seemed more willing to accept Marcella in his new space. He has even started bringing her gifts, leaving his enrichment objects at the gate that separates him from his potential mate. In time, we hope that this builds into an acceptance of Marcella that promotes successful breeding between our sun bears. It is important for them to try again, as no sun bear cubs have survived more than a few days in the US since the birth of Marcella’s twin cubs nearly five years ago.

As the year winds down, we expect these recent changes will help our bears settle well into the next phases of their lives. We are hopeful that the New Year will be good to our animals, as Xiao Liwu grows into a robust little panda, and our sun bears will (fingers crossed) succeed in breeding. I would also like to extend my warm wishes to you for a happy holiday season and a peaceful transition to a new year.

Suzanne Hall is a senior research technician for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Perfectly Panda.