It was a birthday extravaganza at the San Diego Zoo this past weekend! Giant panda Xiao Liwu (pronounced sshyaoww lee woo)—Mr. Wu to his keepers and fans—was all energy as he celebrated his third birthday in spectacular pirate-themed fashion. The birthday bear, whose name means “little gift,” came out of his den to find a festive atmosphere, complete with decorations, a brand-new swing, and a beautiful ice cake proclaiming, “Happy Birthday Mr. Wu.”
Hundreds of guests watched as the easy-going bear opened gift after gift.
The crowd’s excitement grew as he finally made his way over to his cake and began devouring the slices of fruits and vegetables layering the top. The Zoo’s nutritional services team—the imaginative force behind this year’s impressive cake—spent weeks freezing and sculpting the blue and orange icy treat. The two-tiered cake was made of water mixed with food coloring and frozen into layers. Bamboo stalks, a favorite of Mr. Wu’s, were used to support the top tier. The cake was decorated with sliced fruits and vegetables, colored pieces of ice, pureed yam frosting, and a little honey.
As a special birthday gift, a new swing set was hung inside his exhibit. The swing was built by the Zoo’s exhibit, with all of the parts donated by fans. Mr. Wu’s keepers also hung decorations, and placed tiny gift boxes filled with hay, pine shavings and his daily food items around the exhibit for him to enjoy. The cake, swing, and gifts are a form of enrichment, which is important to the panda. The items keep him stimulated and active, and allow him to show natural behaviors.
Keepers describe Mr. Wu as a small but mighty bear, who’s extremely smart and adventurous. He enjoys playing with ice cubes and climbing the tallest tree in his exhibit. He also enjoys rolling in different scents, with his favorites being wintergreen and cinnamon. He weighs just over 155 pounds — but when he is full grown, he could 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.
The San Diego Zoo is home to three giant pandas: Xiao Liwu; his mother, Bai Yun; and his 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. Those who want to help San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy lead the fight against extinction can celebrate Mr. Wu’s birthday by becoming a Hero for Wildlife. To find out how, visit www.endextinction.org.