"We are very excited about our panda coming out on exhibit," zoo spokeswoman Christina Simmons told ABCNews.com. "We have tons of fans and there is a tremendous amount of excitement. I've worked with a lot of different animals and there is something uniquely cute about pandas. They have an adorable appearance that you don't necessarily see in other animals."
The 5-month-old bear cub was allowed to go outside by himself Wednesday, after he showed signs that he was strong enough by climbing on bamboo and exploring his habitat. Before that, zookeepers could view the bear's interaction with his mother, Bai Yun, in the birthing quarters through video cameras.
"This little panda has taken a little longer than some of our other youngsters to emerge from the den, but now that he is out he appears to want to spend the majority of his time outside," Gaylene Thomas, animal care supervisor at the San Diego Zoo, said in a release.
Simmons said the pandas tell zookeepers, through their actions, when they are ready to go out into a natural habitat. The baby cubs typically stay in the den for several months and when the mother and baby cub feel they are ready they will move into the den, she said.
For now, Xiao Liwu will continue to live with his mother, but may be transferred to a suitable breeding habitat by age 3, Simmons said. The San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy's mission is to bring endangered species back from the brink of extinction. The zoo has a 12-year agreement with China that includes the loan of two giant pandas. China reserves the right to have the cub return to its native country in order to increase the panda population.
"Pandas become sexually mature when they are 5-6 years of age," Simmons said. "We would move them between 3 and 5 years so they are in a situation when they are of age to breed, which is important to the population's growth."