San Diego Zoo panda cub close to being in public

San Diego Zoo officials were waiting Tuesday for the
giant panda cub to get a little stronger and learn to follow his mother around
before he can go on public display.

Xiao Liwu, born July 29, has only been visible to the public via the
zoo's online PandaCam and videos occasionally released by the park.

“He needs two things to go on exhibit — the ability to climb, and he's
not quite there yet, and he also has to have the behavior of following his
mom out and back into the den,” said Dr. Beth Bicknese, a senior veterinarian
for zoo.

“We're waiting for him to be stronger in climbing and waiting for him
to be better at following, and then we're going to have him out on exhibit,”
she said.

Xiao Liwu, which means “Little Gift” in English, weighed 14.5 pounds
during his weekly examination on Tuesday, and measured 29 inches long from the
end of his nose to the tip of his tail.

The cub is developing motor skills and getting better at crawling. Zoo
officials said he has been seen investigating a small climbing structure in the
den he shares with his mother, Bai Yun.

The giant pandas at the zoo are on loan from the Chinese government,
which has the option of calling the black-and-white bears back to their native
country after they reach the age of 3. Only the newest cub and Yun Zi, who
turned 3 in August, remain at the San Diego Zoo among Bai Yun's six offspring.

The local zoo is one of four in the U.S. that participate in the loan
program. For a hefty fee to China, the zoos get to study the critically
endangered species up close and help with breeding. At the same time, the
pandas make for highly popular attractions.

Only around 1,600 pandas are believed to be left in the wild in China,
in part because of deforestation and the expansion of farming. The bamboo-
eating panda has lost much of its forest habitat in the mountainous areas of
southwest China to roads and railroads, according to the nonprofit World
Wildlife Fund.

Categories: KUSI