SAN DIEGO -– Six-month-old baby panda Xiao Liwu is taking his first steps onto the world stage this week. The sixth panda born to 21-year-old Bai Yun, Xiao Liwu, remains under the watchful eye of his mother but will go on public display on Thursday.
Xiao Liwu is clocking in at 18 pounds and San Diego Zoo panda keeper Juli Thatcher said, “He’s at the stage right now where he’s just very active. And he has to check on his environment. He’s still a little clumsy.
Despite his clumsiness, Xiao Liwu’s public debut is a significant victory for the international panda conservation community.
Ron Swaisgood, director of the San Diego Zoo’s conservation program, said deciphering panda mating habits was the biggest hurdle to the zoo’s now-renowned breeding program.
“We couldn’t get pandas to do what’s supposed to come naturally,” Swaisgood told CBS News’ Bill Whitaker. “We did a lot of research. We learned about their behavior, their biology. And so, the population is growing exponentially now.”
The San Diego Zoo boasts the most successful breeding program outside of China. The program started in 1996, when Bai Yun and a mate were loaned from China.
After overcoming the mating difficulties, zookeepers face a challenging road ahead just to keep baby pandas alive. Last fall, a newborn cub at Washington D.C.’s National Zoo died at just one-week-old.
In San Diego, Swaisgood helped develop a nutritional baby formula and devised new ways to help mothers nurse multiple cubs. And while Xiao Liwu—whose name means “Little Gift”—has been declared strong enough to brave the cameras and crowds, Swaisgood and other caretakers are maintaining a watchful on him.
Like all U.S. pandas, Xiao Liwu is just on loan and will likely go to China at age three or four, where he’ll enter the breeding program.
For their part, the San Diego Zoo says, “We’re very proud that we’ve had six cubs born here at the San Diego Zoo.”