The public was scheduled to get its first live glimpse of giant panda cub Xiao Liwu Thursday after five months of watching him on a webcam or zoo-produced videos.
A section of the exhibit frequented by the 5-month-old bear will be opened to the public from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. daily. However, zoo officials warn that his mother, Bai Yun, is a little protective, so viewing opportunities might be short or intermittent.
At a preview for the media Wednesday, Xiao Liwu strode outside ahead of Bai Yun for the first time, explored the exhibit, nibbled on some vegetation and even took a bit of a tumble.
"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," said Gaylene Thomas, an animal care supervisor at the zoo.
The name of the cub, the sixth offspring of Bai Yun, translates in English to "Little Gift."
The giant pandas at the zoo are on loan from the Chinese government, which has the option of calling the black-and-white bears back to their native country after they reach age 3. Only the newest cub and Yun Zi, who turned 3 in August, remain at the San Diego Zoo among Bai Yun's six offspring.
The local zoo is one of four in the U.S. that participate in the loan program. For a hefty fee to China, the zoos get to study the critically endangered species up close and help with breeding. At the same time, the pandas make for highly popular attractions.
Only around 1,600 pandas are believed to be left in the wild in China, in part because of deforestation and the expansion of farming. The bamboo- eating panda has lost much of its forest habitat in the mountainous areas of southwest China to roads and railroads, according to the nonprofit World Wildlife Fund.