San Diego, California - Xiao Liwu (pronounced sshyaoww lee woo), a male giant panda at the San Diego Zoo, turned two years old today and received a birthday party, complete with cake and presents. The young panda, whose name means little gift, came out of his den this morning to find a festive, four-foot-tall ice cake, topped with a big ice "2" and filled with some of his favorite treats: apple, carrot and yam slices.
The birthday bear, called Mr. Wu by his keepers and panda fans, went directly to the two-tiered cake and began eating the slices of fruits and vegetables layering the top tier of the icy treat. When he ate all the slices, he patiently waited for the ice to melt so he could eat the fruit frozen into the tiers. He later climbed on top of the cake and chewed on the bamboo stalks frozen inside the decorative elements before venturing off to check out his gifts, boxes filled with hay, alfalfa and pine shavings and scented with cinnamon.
Xiao Liwu's cake, weighing 100 pounds, was made by the Zoo's nutritional services team and took weeks to complete. It was made of water colored with food coloring and frozen into layers, with bamboo stalks used to support the tiers. The ice cake was decorated with sliced fruits and vegetables, bamboo, colored pieces of ice cut into star shapes and pureed yam frosting applied with traditional frosting tubes and tips. The cake and gifts are a form of enrichment, which is important to the panda, as it keeps him stimulated and active, allowing him to show natural behaviors.
Keepers describe Mr. Wu as an extremely smart and precocious cub. He enjoys playing in a long, plastic tray filled with ice cubes, but once the cubes melt, he comes out. He also enjoys rolling in different scents and his favorites are ginseng root, wintergreen and cinnamon. He is very laid back and relaxed and loves his bamboo, eating 15 to 20 pounds of it a day. He weighs 88 pounds and when full grown can weigh as much as 250 pounds. Visitors can see Mr. Wu at Panda Trek at the San Diego Zoo or watch him on the Zoo's Panda cam at zoo.sandiegozoo.org/cams/panda-cam.
The San Diego Zoo is home to three giant pandas: Xiao Liwu, his mother, Bai Yun and father, Gao Gao. Giant pandas are on loan to the San Diego Zoo from the People's Republic of China for conservation studies of this endangered species. To help San Diego Zoo Global lead the fight against extinction and to celebrate Xiao Liwu's birthday, please consider becoming a Hero for Wildlife by making a monthly donation to San Diego Zoo Global's Wildlife Conservancy at www.endextinction.org
Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes onsite wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents. The important conservation and science work of these entities is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of the Zoological Society of San Diego.