December 30, 2005

Panda cub creates stir in California debut

By Marty Graham

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - The San Diego Zoo's 5-month-old panda
cub, Su Lin, slept through most of her first days on public
display this week, but behind the scenes, the fuzzy 15.6-pound
(7 kg) panda is performing headstands and nibbling on her
mother's ears, a zookeeper said on Friday.

Su Lin, one of two panda cubs in the United States, was
born on August 2. The panda and her mother, Bai Yun, are on
loan to the zoo from the Wolong Giant Panda Research Center in

Thousands of holiday visitors lined up this week to see and
photograph the cub, whose name means "a little bit of something
very cute." The panda and her mother are placed in an enclosed
public viewing area for three hours each morning, after which
the door between a public and private area are left open so
they can wander back and forth.

"We've been watching her mom's behavior because Su Lin
takes her signals from her mom," said senior keeper Joanne
Simerson. "Bai Yun is very comfortable being in public and Su
Lin seems to be too."

Su Lin is Bai Yun's third cub, and her public debut comes
one month after Tai Shan, a male panda cub born in July, first
greeted visitors to the U.S. National Zoo in Washington.

The births of Su Lin and Tai Shan are notable given how
hard it is to breed giant pandas in captivity. Females only
ovulate once a year, with a slim 24-to-48-hour window for

In the enclosure adjacent to Su Lin, her older brother,
2-year-old Mei Sheng, has been more active than his infant
sister. Bai Yun's oldest cub, Hua Mei, returned to China and
bore two cubs this year.

Pandas are omnivores who spend a lot of time sleeping. They
usually wean their young at around 18 months, and healthy
pandas live into their late 20s or early 30s.

Bai Yun and Su Lin share an enclosure littered with bamboo
stalks, remnants of one of their favorite meals. Keepers use
treats like apples, carrots and yams to elicit behaviors,
including cooperation during veterinary exams, Simerson said.