San Diego panda cub is a 'little gift'

One hundred days after his birth, the San Diego Zoo's youngest panda received his name. Researchers say that due to the panda breeding program, the species survival seems more likely.  

REUTERS/Tammy Spratt/San Deigo Zoo Global/handout
In this file photo, a giant panda cub has his first vaccination during a successful sixth physical exam in San Deigo, California in September. The cub received his name at a ceremony on Tuesday.

There is a new little gift at the San Diego Zoo that's going to get very big.

The zoo's youngest giant panda was officially named Xiao Liwu, Chinese for "little gift," at a ceremony Tuesday. He is on the small side, but is strong and cooperative, said Dr. Ron Swaisgood, a member of the zoo's panda team.

The cub was born on July 29 and was named 100 days after its birth, according to Chinese zoo tradition. Officials said the cub weighs 9.2 pounds (4 kilograms) and stretches more than 23 inches (58 centimeters) long from nose to tail.

Zoo officials got 7,000 suggested names, chose their top six and put them up for a vote. More than 35,000 zoo visitors voted on names that meant Little Gift, Miracle, Raindrop, Big Ocean or Big Sea, Brave Son and Water Dragon.

Xiao Liwu's mother is Bai Yun which means White Cloud and father Gao Gao, which means Tall Tall. The cub is Bai Yun's sixth. She turned 21 in July, making her the oldest giant panda known to give birth.

Through participation in a panda exchange breeding program with China, researchers "have gone from zero to 100 overnight in understanding the species," Swaisgood said. That's very beneficial for conservation because "it's hard to conserve what we do not understand."

He called the panda the world's "best loved species."

Before the program, the future of the species was bleak, he said, because the death rate exceeded the birth rate. But in 2010, "we met the 200 individuals needed to preserve the genetic diversity of the species," Swaisgood said to applause from the audience.

Swaisgood described efforts by scientists in China to track wild pandas. A wild panda will leave about 50 droppings a day, he said, and scientists can learn a lot from that, including information about DNA, hormones and diet.

Swaisgood said those taking part in the breeding program have done a good job.

"There is a feeling of hope that things are turning around for the species and it has a brighter future than it did 20 years ago," he said.

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