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Panda Cub Gets New Toys

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Xiao Liwu looks like he's waving while holding a piece of bamboo in his mouth.San Diego Zoo

Like millions of kids who celebrated Christmas on Tuesday, the newest giant panda cub at the San Diego Zoo enjoyed playing with some new toys this week.

During his checkup Thursday (Dec. 27), Xiao Liwu was distracted by a doughnut-shaped plastic ring big enough for the baby bear to sit in, a stick of bamboo and a plastic ball, zoo offiicals said.

"He's getting past his awkward movement phase," Meg Sutherland-Smith, director of veterinary services for the zoo, said in a video. "He's walking around with much more confidence, he's not stumbling anymore, and today we also gave him a small piece of a bamboo stem, which he readily held in his hand and was mouthing like he was a big boy."

Keepers are waiting for the nearly 5-month-old cub to become a stronger climber before they put him out in a public panda exhibit.

Xiao Liwu, whose name means "Little Gift," was the sixth cub born to the zoo's panda mom Bai Yun. All the San Diego Zoo giant pandas are on a research loan from China, the only place where the species still exists in the wild. Four of Xiao Liwu's siblings have already been moved out of California to join the Chinese panda conservation and breeding program.

Captive breeding is an important way to study and conserve the endangered species, as just 1,600 giant pandas are thought to be left in the wild. In addition to habitat loss from human activities and low reproductive rates, giant pandas' survival is also threatened by climate change. A study released in the journal Nature Climate Change last month found that global warming could wipe out much of the bears' chief food source, bamboo, over the next century.

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