San Diego, California - Giant panda Xiao Liwu turned 6 years old over the weekend, and the San Diego Zoo held a “Super Hero for Wildlife” conservation-themed birthday celebration to honor the much-visited white-and-black bear. Zoo guests and animal care staff packed the Barlin-Kahn Family Panda Trek and watched as Xiao Liwu—also known as “Mr. Wu” to his keepers and fans—walked into his habitat and enjoyed a multitude of special birthday items and decorations, including panda party bags filled with his favorite treats, stuffed burlap pillows and six bamboo-bread cupcakes. Volunteers also created papier-måché lanterns with conservation messaging printed on the front, as a reminder of how important it is to conserve energy and water, and to help fight species habitat loss and illegal wildlife trade.
Xiao Liwu is the sixth giant panda born at the San Diego Zoo to mother Bai Yun, and the fifth cub fathered by Gao Gao. The birthday gifts he received today are part of the enrichment that the young bear gets on a regular basis to keep him active and stimulated, and to encourage natural behaviors like foraging.
In 2016, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reclassified the giant panda as Vulnerable, instead of Endangered—indicating in their report that current conservation efforts are working; however, low panda population numbers and habitat loss remain a problem, so more work needs to be done to increase the species’ population and provide giant pandas with suitable places to thrive. Currently, scientists count nearly 2,000 giant pandas living in their native habitat—and the majority of them are adults.
The San Diego Zoo is home to three giant pandas, on loan from the People’s Republic of China for conservation studies. As part of this long-term program, the Zoo, in conjunction with Chinese panda experts, continues to work on science-based panda conservation programs. The Zoo also collaborates with the Chinese Academy of Sciences in studies of behavior, ecology, genetics and conservation of wild pandas.
Guests can visit Xiao Liwu and his mother, Bai Yun, at their Panda Trek habitat during the day, and then stay late for Nighttime Zoo—an annual summertime celebration that includes toe-tapping music, fascinating animal encounters, stilt walkers, exceptional acrobatic feats and African-themed music, dance, and more. Nighttime Zoo runs through Sept. 3, 2018. The Zoo will stay open until 9 p.m, with special activities starting at 4 p.m. daily. Nighttime Zoo activities and attractions are free with Zoo admission or membership.
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 on-site 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 work of these entities is inspiring children through the San Diego Zoo Kids network, reaching out through the internet and in children’s hospitals nationwide. The work of San Diego Zoo Global is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.