SAN DIEGO – The giant panda cub at the San Diego Zoo needs to get a little stronger and learn to follow his mother around before he can go on public display, a veterinarian said Tuesday.
“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 Tuesday, and measured 29 inches long from the end of his nose to the tip of his tail.
The cub is developing his motor skills and is getting better at crawling. Zoo officials said he has been seen investigating a small climbing structure in the rooms 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 them 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.