The San Diego Zoo celebrated the second birthday of its giant panda cub today by creating an elaborate cake made of ice, bamboo and some of his favorite fruits.
The festive cake also served as special enrichment for Xiao Liwu, whose name means "little gift," according to the zoo. Enrichment in various forms is important, as it keeps the young panda stimulated and active and allows him to show his natural behaviors, zookeepers said.
The cub born July 29, 2012, and nicknamed "Mr. Wu," also received boxes wrapped as gifts to play with.
"He's not as playful as (other) cubs -- he's super-intelligent," Jennifer Becerra of the zoo said, adding that the cub is brave and independent.
"We already call him an old man because all he wants is his bamboo," she said. "He was one of our first cubs to venture out to his exhibit without his mom. He likes to explore everything, every inch of his exhibit."
Giant pandas in the U.S. are on a research loan from China. The zoo is one of four in the United States that participate in the 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.
Xiao Liwu, whose mother is Bai Yun and father is Gao Gao, is the sixth panda born at the zoo. Bai Yun was nearly 21 years old when the cub was born, making her the oldest giant panda known to give birth.