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panda Xiao Liwu

200

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.

151

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.

408

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.

284

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.

218

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.

124

Panda Cub: Exam 16

His belly is still round and adorable!

Xiao Liwu didn’t quite gain a half pound since last week’s exam. At his 16th exam yesterday, he weighed in at 12.5 pounds (5.7 kilograms) compared to 12.1 on Thursday. Now if it were me, that would be great news for my waistline! But if you’re a growing giant panda cub, one might wonder why that round belly didn’t grow plumper? Don’t fret: our “little gift” is simply growing into his skin. Zoo Nutritionist Jennifer Parsons and Zoo Veterinarian Tracy Clippinger gave the cub “two paws up” on his health check up. I gave him two thumbs up on the cute factor!

Jennifer told us after the exam that Xiao Liwu is becoming more muscular, so the slight weight gain is turning into muscle. Tracy described it this way: his pudgy baby fat is thinning to trim toddler muscles. Less fat means more muscles, which translate to active walking instead of crawling. Good news for panda fans, because the better he walks, the closer he is to making his public debut. But, before you get too excited, he’s not quite there yet. While watching Panda Cam, I’ve observed Bai Yun drag our little gift back to the den many a time. Although they are taking excursions to other rooms, his more-muscular legs are not quite strong enough for the exhibit just yet.

Xiao Liwu is becoming more and more active. He didn’t want to sit still during the exam, but he also wasn’t trying to get away from the Panda Team. Rather, he just wanted their attention. I should have focused on Jennifer’s measurements, taking notes about his body length (26.7 inches or 68 centimeters) from nose to tail, if you really want to know), but instead, I’m cooing in the back of the room. My heart melts every time he crawls into their lap or when he flips on his back like he did today. Like many of you, I’d like to reach out and scratch that fuzzy belly, which, by the way, still looks pretty round.

But Xiao Liwu is not here for me to talk baby talk to, so I refocus and learn from Tracy that the kiddo has eight teeth now. His canines are very apparent now. He also has more teeth that are just below the gum line. Those teeth are there for future use. He is not eating bamboo or any other food yet; he is solely dependent on mother’s milk for now. That nutritious milk that Bai Yun supplies is all he needs to continue to grow into those paws. His back left paw measured 4.7 inches (12 cm) long today. I particularly like to see his rear end as he walks, because he has a little patch of white hairs on one of his rear legs. For me, that will be one of those distinguishing features that will help me identify him when he reaches adult size; that is, if he keeps the white patch.

For now, my memories of this little gift will be how comfortable he is among the Panda Team. After the examination was complete, Xiao Liwu wobbled to the middle of the floor in between the team, laid down, and closed his eyes, sweet serenity amid the people who watch over his health day in and day out.

Yadira Galindo is a senior public relations representative for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, You May Call Her Qinisa.

Click on image to enlarge the chart.

165

Thankful for Pandas

Jen is thankful for Xiao Liwu.

I was the fortunate one to help out with Xiao Liwu’s 14th exam on November 20. We have been thinking about nicknames for the little guy, and most seem to like Liwu or Mr. Wu for this newly active one. This exam was a challenging one, as Mr. Wu is starting to crawl more and climb on his keepers. For this exam, we decided to let him explore some new toys, such as a black Kong chew toy, a green ball, and some bamboo leaves. He wasn’t too sure about the Kong. He seemed to like to look at it, but when he touched it, he got a little nervous. He is just learning what different substrates feel like: two weeks ago he felt grass for the first time in Bai Yun’s off-exhibit garden room, and he wasn’t sure so he cried for his mom to pick him up.

Mr. Wu is working on perfecting his skills of climbing in and out of the den on his own. He will have to get more comfortable out of the den and in the garden room before he makes his exhibit debut. We are excited to share this little cub with all his fans in the future. As keepers, we rely on Bai Yun’s cues to let us know when Xiao Liwu is ready to go out into the exhibit. She likes to make sure all her cubs can walk and climb up a tree before they go into a bigger space. We are hoping he will be available for viewing sometime in January.

Jennifer Becerra is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Panda Exam 9: Crawling.

231

Panda Cub: Exam 14

Xiao Liwu gets his first chew toy.

Xiao Liwu had his weekly exam Tuesday morning and his final vaccination. The cub weighed 10.8 pounds (4.9 kilograms) and measured 25.5 inches (65 centimeters) long. During the exam, a Zoo veterinarian was able to see and feel several teeth in the baby bear’s mouth.

The Panda Team set out a ball, a chew toy, and some bamboo on the exam floor so the cub would have different items to explore. Veterinarian Matt Kinney noted that while Xiao Liwu is crawling better than he has done in previous weeks, they don’t feel he is able to navigate the uneven terrain of the Zoo’s panda exhibits yet. The cub will continue to practice his crawling and walking skills in an off-exhibit suite of rooms before he and his mother, Bai Yun, are given access to a public exhibit.

More photos of the 14th exam can be viewed in our Panda Photo Gallery.

Click on chart to enlarge.

198

Lucky Exam 13

Victoria, in the center, holds Xiao Liwu on her lap. Panda fans everywhere turn green with envy.

Yesterday was Xiao Liwu’s 13th exam. Thirteen might be unlucky for some people, but for me it was my second opportunity to assist with an exam; my first one was six weeks ago (see post Panda Cub: Exam 7). It was definitely a different experience this time around. To start, we now perform the exam on top of a special carpet on the ground in the Giant Panda Research Station. This transition happened a few weeks ago when the young cub began attempting to crawl. He was an adorable wiggly worm as I tried to hold him still while the veterinarian and nutritionist attempted to examine and measure him.

At 15 weeks of age, he weighed 10.3 pounds (5.7 kilograms) and is 25.1 inches (64 centimeters) long (see growth chart below for a cub comparison), and our veterinarian, PK Robbins, noted that his first four teeth have erupted through his gums.

The best part is that his crawling seemed to bring him up into my lap, not away from us as one might expect. It appears that our sweet panda baby enjoys a good cuddle! At the end of the exam, we backed away to observe the improvement in his crawling with no impediments. Xiao Liwu is progressing nicely, getting his rear feet under him as he crawled. We have even witnessed him crawling back into the den, which is raised about 6 inches (15 centimeters) off the ground.

Stay tuned for future milestones!

Victoria Girdler is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

Click on chart to enlarge.

Note: Photos from the 13th exam are now posted in the Panda Photo Gallery.