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xiao liwu

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Panda Party for Mr. Wu

Just wait until Mr. Wu sees his birthday ice cake!

Just wait until Mr. Wu sees his birthday ice cake!

Xiao Liwu’s birthday party is just around the corner—July 29! The time does fly by fast as this little panda guy is turning 2! Come join us to celebrate his birthday starting at 9 a.m. in the San Diego Zoo’s Panda Trek! If you cannot join us in person, make sure you tune in to the Panda Cam at about 8:50 a.m., when “Mr. Wu” is scheduled to come out on exhibit. Our Forage Department has been putting their creative caps on and working hard for a couple of weeks to make another masterpiece cake (and they get better and better every year, don’t they?). I have only seen a sneak peek of this one, and it has a Day at the Beach theme. All Wu fans are invited—make sure you wear your sunscreen, best beach hat, and flip flops for this big event! We will see what Mr. Wu thinks of water after this day!

Xiao Liwu now weighs 88 pounds (40 kilograms). And what would Mr. Wu want for his birthday? A $14 donation to the Zoo’s Animal Care Wish List goes toward our enrichment program, which funds items such as new hammocks, perfumes (his favorite scents are ginseng root, wintergreen, and cinnamon), materials to make a slide, and some edible goodies, which can enrich the lives for so many of our animals. You can also Adopt a Panda, which helps fund the Zoo’s enrichment program, and perhaps take home your own panda plush to call Mr. Wu.

Jennifer Becerra is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, “Go Potty,” Xiao Liwu.

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Xiao Liwu and Water

Come to Mr. Wu, bamboo!

Come to Mr. Wu, bamboo!

What is it about water and Mr. Wu? San Diego Zoo Keeper Jennifer Becerra reports that our precocious panda boy enjoys playing with tubs of ice cubs—and has even fallen asleep atop the ice in the tub. But once that ice has melted, out he comes! To encourage foraging behavior, keepers gave him the opportunity to bob for apples—but once he got his paw wet, the game was over.

Other attempts to get Xiao Liwu, who is almost two (sounds like a line from How the Grinch Stole Christmas, doesn’t it?), to forage for his food have failed. Wu does NOT like to work for his food. As Jennifer admitted, he is definitely Gao Gao’s son in that regard!

Thankfully, other forms of enrichment have been appreciated by the mini Gao Gao. You may have observed him resting on a “pillow,” a burlap coffee-bean bag filled with hay. And he has a new favorite scent: gingseng root. His blood pressure/blood draw training is progressing nicely, and he now rolls onto his side when asked—another training milestone.

Don’t tell Wu yet, but a birthday ice cake has been ordered for his big day on July 29. He should enjoy it, as long as it doesn’t melt!

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

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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.

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“Go potty,” Xiao Liwu

What a clever panda boy we have!

What a clever panda boy we have!

Many of you have wondered how we trained the San Diego Zoo’s panda youngster, Xiao Liwu, to provide a urine sample upon request. Teaching a bear to urinate on command takes a lot of patience and observation of the bear and his or her habits. We used a method called capturing a behavior.

We noticed that when “Mr. Wu” shifts off exhibit and goes into the tunnel, which has a concrete floor, he would, fairly regularly, go to the bathroom before he went into his bedroom. Urine is a very important tool for information about any animal to determine health or hormone levels. So, we started keeping a water syringe and extra apples with us when we started shifting him in at night. When we “caught” him going potty, we would say “go potty” and show him the syringe. When he was done, we would offer him his verbal cue, “Good,” and an apple reward.

After about two weeks of this, he started to go potty when we asked him to. We then use the syringe to collect his urine sample off the concrete floor, which is cleaned every day and night. No cup or pan needed!

Jennifer Becerra is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Yun Zi Travels to China, Part 2.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.