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Panda Cub Gets Buff

Photo of Xiao Liwu taken on Jan.30, 2013 (Image credit: Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo)

Don't let his pudgy appearance fool you — the San Diego Zoo's panda cub Xiao Liwu is getting buff, according to his vets. The baby bear apparently has been slimming down and gaining muscle in his legs from climbing around his new exhibit on view to the public.

The 6-month-old cub weighed in at 19.4 pounds (8.8 kilograms) and measured 24.6 inches long (88 centimeters) during his checkup this week, according to the zoo. Though the baby bear has been tumbling around in the more rugged habitat, where he made his debut last month, zookeepers said he has no sprains or injuries from falling.

"We expect them to fall on exhibit as they learn to climb," Matt Kinney, a veterinary resident at the San Diego Zoo, said in a statement, adding that pandas' fur and flexibility protects them from getting hurt.

"When they hit the ground, they can roll out of their fall so that helps dissipate the force so he's not hitting the ground really hard like other animals might."

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 year found that global warming could wipe out much of the bears' chief food source, bamboo, over the next century.

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Live Science Staff
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