November was an exciting month for the Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s giant panda cub! He received a clean bill of health during his third veterinary exam, was named "Xiao Qi Ji" by his fans around the world and took his first steps on Thanksgiving Day. The Panda Team keeps us all connected to these precious moments of pure panda cub joy. Get the #PandaStory from those who know the cub best: assistant curator of pandas Laurie Thompson and animal keepers Nicole MacCorkle, Mariel Lally and Marty Dearie.
Nov. 12 | Teething and Adventure Time
Last Sunday morning, giant panda Mei Xiang rested in the doorway of the den she and her cub share. Her son crawled around the den and moved toward her. Mei Xiang stretched her forepaw in his direction and appeared to coax him toward her. After a few seconds, she picked her son up, rolled over with him and placed him on the floor of their large indoor enclosure. He rested in the spot for almost an hour while Mei Xiang ate bamboo nearby. This is a big milestone; Mei Xiang continues to prepare her cub to spend more time in their main habitat and less time in their den.
Our cub’s attempts at crawling and walking are progressing nicely. He is more deliberate in his actions. Most of the time, he seems to move in the direction in which he intended. When he attempts to stand, he can get three legs underneath him momentarily, but has not yet been successful at balancing on all four feet at once. Practice makes perfect, though, and the cub will be walking very soon!
On Monday, Nov. 9, our panda team performed a quick checkup on the cub while Mei Xiang enjoyed the gorgeous sunny weather. He weighed 9.2 pounds (4.21 kilograms). From the tip of his nose to the base of his tail, he measured 21.2 inches long (42 centimeters). His abdominal girth measured 18.8 inches. As he approaches turning three months old Nov. 21, his upper incisors are starting to erupt at the gumline. Cubs typically start nibbling on solid foods around 6 months of age, although Mei Xiang’s milk will be the staple of his diet until he is about 18 months old.
Nov. 20 | Big Milestones Ahead
In the coming days, our giant panda cub will celebrate two big milestones. Tomorrow, Nov. 21, marks three months to the day that he was born. Two days later, Nov. 23, he will receive his name—thanks to your votes. Everyone on the panda team is so excited to find out what his name will be on Monday! (If you haven’t cast your vote yet, you can do so here. Voting ends tonight at 11:59 p.m.)
On Wednesday, Zoo veterinarians conducted the cub’s third checkup. He was wide awake and relatively quiet throughout the exam. Once again, they listened to his heart and lungs, checked his eyes and mouth, and tested the range of motion in his limbs. Overall, our animal care team is happy with the progress the cub is making. The cub also received his second canine distemper vaccine and was very tough—he didn’t move or vocalize at all at the prick of the needle.
This week, our cub tipped the scales at 10.4 pounds (4.72 kilograms). From the tip of his nose to the base of his tail, he measured 22 inches long (56 centimeters). His abdominal girth measured 18.1 inches (46 centimeters).
As my fellow keeper Nicole mentioned in her update last week, our cub has been practicing his crawling skills. Once he starts walking, it won’t be long before he tries to climb up on the rockwork in his habitat. The question will be whether he is tall enough to reach some of the plateaus. As they begin to explore, panda cubs fall a lot. Luckily, they are physically robust and have thick, wooly and dense fur—the perfect cushion for any tumbles he may take.
We are looking forward to seeing how our cub’s personality develops. At this age, it is hard to tell if he will be more like Tian Tian, his father, or Mei Xiang, his mother. Since giant panda cubs’ appearance changes as they age, it is hard to determine whether his eye patches, back saddle (the band of black fur across his back) or knee socks (the black markings on his legs) resemble that of his dad or mom just yet. There is some feeling among the team that this cub is similar in appearance to his older sister Bao Bao when she was this age. A few team members who have worked with all four cubs say his personality reminds them of his oldest brother, Tai Shan. Time will tell!
Nov. 23 | His Name is Xiao Qi Ji
The Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute’s 3-month-old giant panda cub received his name today. After five days of voting and just under 135,000 votes, the winning name is Xiao Qi Ji (SHIAU-chi-ji), which translates as “little miracle” in English. It was one of four Mandarin Chinese names that were offered for a public online vote from Nov. 16 to Nov. 20 on the Zoo’s website. Giant pandas are an international symbol of endangered wildlife and hope, and Xiao Qi Ji’s birth offered the world a much-needed moment of joy amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. His name reflects the extraordinary circumstances under which he was born and celebrates the collaboration between colleagues who strive to conserve this species.
“Connecting people around the world with nature, whether in person or in this virtual setting, is a cornerstone of our mission to conserve and protect giant pandas for future generations,” said Steve Monfort, John and Adrienne Mars Director of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. “Like many who have followed our giant panda cub since his birth last summer, I tune into the Giant Panda Cam from time to time. Watching Xiao Qi Ji always puts a smile on my face. We are grateful that those who share in our joy have helped us pick the perfect name for our panda cub.”
Nov. 25 | A New Field Trip Destination
Thanks to fans all over the world, our giant panda cub now has a name: Xiao Qi Ji! There’s no denying that 2020 has been a tough year in many respects, but this little guy has been such a source of happiness and positivity for our team and millions of other people, too.
In an exciting new development, Mei Xiang recently took Xiao Qi Ji on a “field trip” to the outdoor patio of their enclosure. From this space, he is able to observe keepers working and peek into Tian Tian’s enclosure. In one instance, Xiao Qi Ji was within Tian Tian’s sightlines, but dad was so focused on whether the keepers had food that we aren’t sure he noticed his son!
The cub can also look out at the yard, but cannot access it from this space. The patio floor is not as smooth as the floors of their indoor enclosure, so his claws and feet get good traction. He has started to get his back legs underneath him and is close to walking. On Tuesday, keepers observed Xiao Qi Ji “catapult” himself forward all on his own! Based on his progress, he could take his first steps in the next week or two!
If you tune in to the Giant Panda Cam at night, keep an eye out for play behavior. Mei Xiang nibbles her son, typically around his face, and Xiao Qi Ji will try to grab or swat at her!
Dec. 4 | Xiao Qi Ji Takes His First Steps
If you tuned in to the Giant Panda Cam on Thanksgiving, you may have spotted a very special moment. At 3 months and 5 days old, Xiao Qi Ji took his first steps! That morning, he rested just outside the den while his mother Mei Xiang slept inside. After months of practice, he positioned all four feet beneath him and took a few wobbly steps toward her before toppling over. This is a big milestone for our little cub, and we are thrilled to share it with his fans all over the world! Since then, we see Xiao Qi Ji practicing his walking skills from time to time in the mornings, when Mei Xiang brings him from the den into their large indoor enclosures.
On Dec. 2, our giant panda team took some quick measurements to track Xiao Qi Ji’s growth. During the exam, he was bright-eyed and eager to practice his crawling and walking skills on the tabletop. He would not sit still on the scale, so we placed him in a tub to ensure we recorded an accurate weight. Xiao Qi Ji is making good gains and weighed 12.4 pounds (5.66 kilograms) on Wednesday. From the tip of his nose to the base of his tail, he measured 25.6 inches (65 centimeters). He has also put over an inch on his midsection since his last veterinary exam Nov. 18. Back then, he measured 18.1 inches around his abdomen. Now, he measures 19.2 inches (49 centimeters).
This story was featured in the December 2020 issue of National Zoo News. Behind these “aww’-inspiring moments, an expert team works tirelessly to provide our panda family with everything they need to thrive, ensuring a bright future for this species. If this cub sparks joy for you, please consider making a donation to the Giant Panda Conservation Fund. On behalf of the animals we care for and protect: thank you!