1st birthday party for SD Zoo panda

SAN DIEGO - The giant panda cub at the San Diego Zoo celebrated its first birthday Monday with a big ice cake and boxes decorated to look like gifts.

Xiao Liwu, whose name means "Little Gift," was born July 29 last year to mother Bai Yun and father Gao Gao.

He checked out his presents for a few moments and later spent 40 minutes devouring the cake.

The zoo's Elizabeth Simmons told a local media outlet that the cake had "all his favorites -- apples, sweet potatoes, carrots, a little honey water in there."

She said the gift boxes held hay and treats.

Bai Yun was nearly 21 years old when the cub was born, making her the oldest giant panda known to give birth.

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 age 3. Of Bai Yun's six offspring, only the newest cub and Yun Zi, who will turn 4 next month, remain at the San Diego Zoo.

The zoo is one of four in the United States 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 for 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.


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