Giant panda cub Xiao Liwu today showed some of the spirit that led San Diego Zoo officials to decide to put him on public display, ambling outside ahead of his mother for the first time and exploring his exhibit.
A section of the exhibit frequented by the 5-month-old bear will be opened to the public on Thursday.
Since his July 29 birth, the cub has been visible to the public only via the zoo’s Panda Cam and on occasional videos produced during his veterinary exams.
His area of the exhibit will be open to zoo visitors from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. daily. However, zoo officials warn that his mother, Bai Yun, is a little protective so viewing opportunities might be short or intermittent.
At a preview for the media, Xiao Liwu strode outside ahead of Bai Yun for the first time, explored the exhibit, nibbled on some vegetation and even took a bit of a tumble.
Senior animal keeper Cathy Hawk told reporters that Xiao Liwu is developing his own personality and takes things in stride.
“I think the birth of a cub, be it in China or here in the United States, is a very special moment because it’s such a rare event,” Hawk told 10News. “I think with each cub born, it brings hope and raises awareness of the giant panda.”
The name of the cub, the sixth offspring of Bai Yun, translates in English to “Little Gift.”
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 three. Among Bai Yun’s six offspring, only the newest cub and Yun Zi, who turned three-years-old in August, are to remain at the San Diego Zoo.
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.