xiao liwu


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.


Reflections on Xiao Liwu

Xiao Liwu enjoyed the "little gifts" that hung from the tree on his birthday.

Xiao Liwu enjoyed the “little gifts” that hung from the tree on his 1st birthday.

For the three years that I’ve been working at the Giant Panda Research Station as a panda narrator, it has been a treat to watch our panda cubs grow. Xiao Liwu is the second panda cub I’ve watched grow up, and with his first birthday just passing I can’t believe how fast he’s grown!

I remember when he was just learning how to climb in the classroom exhibit. Starting very slow but steady, he would slip a few times, just as cubs may do when learning this skill. Then once he tried a couple more times, he got the hang of it. Sooner or later he was climbing to the higher branches in his tree, finding a comfy place to take a nap. Now he’s a pro! He sometimes tries to be quite the daredevil and hang upside down in his tree. Like kids, he LOVES to be a ham.

My favorite quality about Wu is that he’s very inquisitive and observant. He is always watching Bai Yun and is curious about what she does. One afternoon, Wu joined Bai Yun at the front of the exhibit and sat next to her while she was eating. He watched her for a moment, grabbed a piece of bamboo, and tried to copy her. He tried so hard to peel the tough stalk with his teeth just like Mom. Eventually, he gave up and started playing with her ears.

Xiao Liwu is also very smart. He’s doing so well with his training. Whenever I watch him training with his keepers, I’m amazed how quickly he picks up on the behaviors. Wu is learning to walk into his bedroom from the exhibit when the bedroom door opens and to touch his nose on a target. Of course, they MUST have honey water as his treat.

I feel so privileged to watch Mr. Wu learn how to be a bear. I see the joy he brings to our guests, our keepers, and our narrators. I must say, he is my favorite Little Gift.

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

This panda cub growth chart shows that Xiao Liwu is about the same size as his sister, Zhen Zhen, just a few days before his first birthday. Click on image to enlarge.

This panda cub growth chart shows that Xiao Liwu is about the same size as his sister, Zhen Zhen, was at the same age. The measurements were taken just a few days before his first birthday. Click on image to enlarge.


Birthday Plans for Xiao Liwu

Will Xiao Liwu come down from the tree for his birthday cake? Stay tuned!

Will Xiao Liwu come down from the tree for his birthday cake? Stay tuned!

It’s that time of the year again to order the birthday cake, wrap the presents, and celebrate with the San Diego Zoo—Mr. Wu’s first birthday is on Monday, July 29! This is a milestone for the Zoo, and we are the fortunate ones to celebrate our sixth panda first birthday with this “little gift.”

I placed the order for Mr. Wu’s birthday cake on July 1, as it takes our Forage Team around a month to plan and create their world-famous ice cakes. Our Forage Team folks always have amazing ideas and are very creative with their cakes. I continue to be amazed at what they can do with ice, and so are the bears! I am always tempted to take an early look at the cake, but I never do, as I like to keep it a surprise. The cake is always bigger and better than the year before.

Make sure you join us for Xiao Liwu’s special day and wear your favorite panda-themed clothes or something black, white, and red (we panda keepers will be in red for the occasion). Mr. Wu will have his cake presentation around 8:45 a.m. for special donors and the media, and the Zoo opens at 9 a.m. Make sure you are getting your cameras ready and/or watching Panda Cam!

There will not be snow in the forecast for his birthday, because he is not shifting off exhibit consistently yet, and we do not want to frighten him with the loud snow-blowing machines. There will be snow in the next month or so—we will let you know the exact date once that’s been determined. But be prepared that Mr. Wu might be enjoying his birthday festivities from high in the trees if anything makes him a little nervous. He has also made a Wish List for his birthday that will be posted on July 29. We’ll provide the link at that time.

By the way, Mr. Wu weighs 40 pounds (18 kilograms) now.

Jennifer Becerra is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Comparing Panda Brothers.


Munching on Bamboo

Xiao Liwu finds a spot away from Mom to practice his bamboo-eating skills.

Xiao Liwu finds a spot away from Mom to practice his bamboo-eating skills.

As our 10-month-old panda cub becomes more and more curious about what Mom is doing with her bamboo, we are beginning to see Xiao Liwu try to pick up the leaves and maneuver them with his little paws. Although panda cubs nurse the entire 18 months they are with Mom, they typically begin eating bamboo around 12 months of age.

While we all see adults like Bai Yun eating bamboo that can be incredibly thick, cubs cannot eat the bamboo culm right away. This is, in part, because it takes some practice for them to effectively strip the outside layer of the culm. Right now, when we see the cub with bamboo, we can see that he is trying to figure out how to get a grip on the culm and find a way to grab the leaves like Mom does.

In the many years that I have been watching and taking care of the bears, I’ve noticed that Bai Yun has a pretty good system for eating her food. From far away, it looks like she wastes a lot of the culm when she strips it, but as I began cleaning her enclosures, I noticed that she does a surprisingly good job at getting the most out of her food. There are times where it looks like she is rolling the bamboo leaves into a tight wad to eat like a candy bar.

One thing I always encourage our guests to check out if they’re around while Bai Yun is eating is to watch her jaw muscles working. Even from afar, you can see the space between her ears flexing as she breaks the pieces apart. Something to observe the next time you are watching Panda Cam or here at the San Diego Zoo for a visit!

Anastasia Horning is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo.


Comparing Panda Brothers

Bai Yun seems to be keeping an eye on her cub in this Panda Cam screen shot.

Bai Yun seems to be keeping an eye on her cub in this Panda Cam screen shot.

Xiao Liwu is a very different cub from his older brother, Yun Zi, but in a good way. He is very smart and is the youngest cub to respond so well to us keepers. Yun Zi did not start shift training (learning to move on and off exhibit when requested) until he was a little older than Mr. Wu is now (9 months old).

The important thing to have with the training and shifting is a reward (usually food) motivation. Yun Zi enjoyed honey water, and he was really good at following Bai Yun when she went into the bedroom, and after he arrived in the bedroom, he would come to us for his reward for coming inside.

Mr. Wu has plenty of motivation with play to follow us to the shift door, but he has learned that the play ends at the door. And sometimes he seems to just want to be carried to the shift door, so we keepers can do all the work! When he starts eating diet items regularly, he will start being motivated to come inside when asked. Xiao Liwu now weighs 31.7 pounds (14.4 kilograms).

Jennifer Becerra is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.


Panda Cub: Rolling and Tumbling

The little cutie seems to imitate his father's relaxed eating style.

The little cutie seems to imitate his father’s relaxed eating style.

As the San Diego Zoo’s panda cub, Xiao Liwu, gets more and more confident in his enclosure, we are beginning to see some fun new behaviors from him and his mother, Bai Yun. So far, at least once a day the cub is coming down out of the tree to get some exercise with his mom and possibly nurse. The time frame and duration of his stay out of the tree has varied from day to day. Xiao Liwu enjoys coming down and jumping on his mom’s back and wrestling with her, and Bai Yun has been super patient and puts up with quite a bit of biting from her little one.

Bai Yun has been extremely relaxed these days and is maintaining a stable weight of 230 pounds (104 kilograms). She is not too rough with her cub and is showing off those mommy moves that we all love so much. As Xiao Liwu is teething and trying out the bamboo, Bai Yun has been surprisingly calm about him getting into her food and trying new pieces. When he initiates a wrestling match, she has been very obliging.

Two days ago, the cub gave our guests a heart-stopping moment—he fell out of the tree from about 20 feet (6 meters). As keeper Jen and I were talking, the cub was in the tree playing on a new branch and trying out some new moves. We looked up for a second, and Xiao Liwu rolled out of the tree! Wu never made a sound—just got right back up and continued playing. He’s moving just fine, and Bai Yun was not alarmed at all by the little oops he made from the tree.

Now I know some of you will be wondering if we need to check him or why we didn’t grab him, and the answer is simple: he’s tough! We did not see any limping or stress behavior from either Mom or cub. Panda cubs are designed to make those climbing mistakes at this young, bouncy age. That layer of baby fat helps, too!

So keep on watching and come see us soon. Just a word to the wise: there is NO schedule for when the cub comes down to play, so please remember to give him some time.

Anastasia Horning is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo.

UPDATE: The main panda viewing area is currently closed as we make modifications to it. Bai Yun and Xiao Liwu have been moved back to the north exhibit, where they can be viewed by guests. Pandas Gao Gao and Yun Zi are off exhibit during this time.


Mr. Wu on View

T13_0244_019It has been about a month since giant pandas Bai Yun and Xiao Liwu have moved to the main viewing exhibit, and what a fun time it has been for San Diego Zoo guests and for our little panda boy! Mr. Wu has adjusted to the new exhibit very well, spending his days exploring every inch of his new habitat, from the ground to the trees. And when he explores the trees, he goes way up high!

Panda cubs are great climbers, and in the wild, high in the trees is the best place for cubs to stay safe. Mr. Wu can be seen lounging 20 to 30 feet (6 to 9 meters) up in the pine tree throughout the day. He is a strong climber and gets up and down with ease. Keepers have also recently installed grass sod in the exhibit, and Mr. Wu is having a great time ripping up the sod and playing with sod chunks.

Xiao Liwu continues to grow like a weed and weighs about 30 pounds (13.6 kilograms). He turned nine months old today! Although he is not yet eating a lot of solid food, he does like to chew on bamboo and really enjoys applesauce. Mr. Wu is still a mellow guy with a sweet personality, and we are all enjoying seeing him grow up and become a “big bear.”

Elizabeth Simmons is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Panda Cub Learning Routine.


Pandas: The Transition

Xiao Liwu rests against his pillow as he plays Big Boy Panda with bamboo.

Xiao Liwu rests against his pillow as he plays Big Boy Panda with bamboo.

Giant panda Bai Yun and her now 8-month-old cub, Xiao Liwu, are slowly making the transition to their new enclosure in the main viewing area of the San Diego Zoo’s Panda Trek. The restless behaviors you may have seen from Bai Yun are absolutely normal during this transition period. We keepers are aware of how the changes can affect the bears, because I’ve seen Bai Yun go through this with EACH of her cubs.

For Bai Yun, the space is not new to her, as she has lived in this enclosure for many years. However, she has a new cub to care for now, and the scent of the previous resident, Gao Gao, is still strong in that enclosure. Although Gao Gao has been her mate and is the father of this cub, that matters not at all to her. In her mind, a male is in the area, and it could mean danger for her cub. As his scent dissipates, she will settle down.

For Mr. Wu, everything is new! The main viewing enclosures give our guests a closer look at the pandas, but they are also closer to the road, so there are new sounds to get used to. The cub’s new space is about the same size as his previous one, but it is shaped differently: it is longer and not as deep. There are lots of new things for the little guy to explore, and taller trees to climb! Cubs at this age do spend a LOT of time in the tallest tree they can find; in the wild, this makes good survival sense, as they would be safe from predators while Mom foraged. Xiao Liwu doesn’t have to worry about those predators here, but the instinct to climb is still strong.

As keepers, we continue to take steps to ease this transition time. We make sure we offer bamboo that is to Bai Yun’s liking whenever possible, we add various enrichment items with each feeding, and we continue to keep the access to her bedroom open, so mother and cub can retreat off exhibit any time they want to do so. Please be patient, this phase of unrest will soon pass!

Kathy Hawk is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.


First Snow Day for Panda Cub!

Yun Zi was 2 when he saw his first snow.Tuesday, March 19, starting at 7 a.m., we are preparing for snow in the panda exhibits. We are very excited and thankful to all the panda fans who donated money to give this wonderful enrichment to our giant pandas. I am sure we will see you at 9 a.m. sharp in person or starting around 8 a.m. on the Panda Cam!

It’s a bit of a process to actually make snow and put it in the exhibits. We have a truck that comes in and is specially designed to turn large ice blocks into snow. There are large hoses that we can hold and deliver (spray) snow into the entire panda exhibit. Snow will be blown into Bai Yun and Xiao Liwu’s north exhibit and into Gao Gao’s exhibit in the main viewing area.

Sadly, Yun Zi’s new tree will not be done in time (due to a couple of days of rain), and he will stay housed next to Bai Yun and Mr. Wu for a few more days. But don’t fret! Yun Zi will be getting snow, too, and we will make sure he has a mound of it to play in.

We are all excited to see how brave Mr. Wu is and what his first reaction will be when he puts his paws in it. Hopefully, it will be a wonderful play day for both bears and guests!

Jennifer Becerra is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

Here’s Zhen Zhen when she saw her first snow:


Panda Cub: Growing and Climbing

Cub blah blah

Xiao Liwu practices his climbing skills.

Over the last few weeks, we have watched Xiao Liwu as he acclimates to having people in his environment and handles being on exhibit for longer periods of time. So far he is doing extremely well: sleeps most of the morning, wakes Mom up, and begins to play. As he grows, he has become more sure of himself and has gotten more daring as he plays with his mom, Bai Yun. Each panda cub born here has been different in his or her personality and growth patterns, and it has been an amazing experience watching so many cubs grow up here at the San Diego Zoo.

As Xiao Liwu grows and becomes more confident, one thing we are going to see is much more climbing. Right now there are tree guards on the tree in the north exhibit so that keepers can keep and eye on the baby and get him inside in the afternoon. Once the cub is able to move to the main exhibit, he will have access to the outdoor area all day and access to the nice, big tree. Cubs have to begin climbing at a young age as a defense mechanism, since their mothers go off to eat for several hours of the day. Being up that high makes it less likely that another bear or leopard can reach the cub.

Another behavior that will be fun to watch is the playtime between mom and cub. Through Bai Yun’s actions, Xiao Liwu learns to defend himself. As the baby gets bigger, these actions will change accordingly.

Xiao Liwu’s exhibit is open from 9 a.m. to noon every day for right now, and we will keep you posted on when this may be extended and when the cub may move to the main enclosure. Hope to see you soon at pandas!

Anastasia Horning is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Panda Cub: First Days on View.

SNOW DAY UPDATE: Thanks to our generous Wish List supporters, we raised enough funds to have one snow day for little Xiao Liwu and his family. But we’d like to have another snow play date! Each $10 donation will go toward a second snow day for our “Little Gift” as we hope to raise more funds to have a second snow day in the summer for his first birthday! See our Wish List for details.