Zoo’s giant panda turns two

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – The San Diego Zoo has a second birthday celebration planned this morning for its giant panda cub.

Zoo nutritionists have created an elaborate cake made of ice, bamboo and some of Xiao Liwu’s favorite fruits. The cub, whose name means “little gift,” was born July 29, 2012.

While the cake will be festive and fun, it also serves as special enrichment for the panda, according to the zoo. Enrichment in various forms is important, as it keeps the young panda stimulated and active and allows him to show his natural behaviors, zookeepers said.

Xiao Liwu will receive other enrichment items, including boxes wrapped as gifts.

A birthday party for the cub nicknamed “Mr. Wu” is scheduled for just before the zoo opens to the public.

Giant pandas in the U.S. are on a research loan from China. The zoo is one of four in the United States that participate in the 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.

Xiao Liwu, whose mother is Bai Yun and father is Gao Gao, is the sixth panda born at the zoo. Bai Yun was nearly 21 years old when the cub was born, making her the oldest giant panda known to give birth.

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