#PandaStory: Adventure Awaits!

This update was written by assistant curator of giant pandas Laurie Thompson.

On Sunday, Feb. 21, giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji turned 6 months old. To celebrate, our half-birthday boy tried yet another new food: homemade applesauce. We placed a big dollop on top of one of his enrichment toys. He sniffed the sweet purée and lapped it up quickly at first. A few bites in, though, he paused and took in the taste. Unlike cooked sweet potato (which he quickly gobbled up), his reaction to the applesauce was much more tepid. It seemed as if he wasn’t sure if he liked it.

We used sweet potato to introduce Xiao Qi Ji to a new toy: a small rubber tub. Keepers smeared some sweet potato inside and, of course, that piqued his interest! At first, he was quite cautious about the tub because it kept flipping up when he put his paws on the edge and leaned on it. Eventually, he climbed inside and sat for a few moments before he dragged it back to the den, where he played with it some more.

Xiao Qi Ji is growing bigger and stronger by the day. Yesterday, he weighed 27.5 pounds (12.49 kilograms)—2.7 pounds heavier than he did Feb. 10.

If you tuned in to the Giant Panda Cam this week, you may have seen Xiao Qi Ji venture farther into the outdoor habitat than he did during his first outing last week. He is acclimating well to the great outdoors and, for the most part, explored the habitat on his own. His mother Mei Xiang accompanied Xiao Qi Ji on a few of his many “laps” around the yard but did not stick by his side. Instead, she opted to eat bamboo and checked on him from time to time.

Xiao Qi Ji had a great time climbing on the log structures and the new hammock. This seems to be his favorite hangout spot. When he reached the top of the climbing structure, it took him a while to figure out how to get down. Mei Xiang helped him down to the ground once. Apart from that instance, Xiao Qi Ji climbed down all by himself. Occasionally he took a tumble, but panda cubs are robust and have dense, wooly fur to cushion their landings.  

Wednesday was filled with so much adventure and excitement that Xiao Qi Ji fell asleep in the hammock. With Mei Xiang relaxing in their indoor enclosure, keepers entered the yard, picked up the sleepy cub and brought him inside.

With much of his attention focused on the climbing structure, Xiao Qi Ji has not attempted to climb the trees in the yard yet. But, we expect that will come soon. We will continue to give him access to the yard as long as the weather is nice and relatively warm, and we have keepers available to monitor him. On those days, the best time to see him outside on the Giant Panda Cam is between 7:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. EDT.

This story appears in the Feb. 26 issue of the Giant Panda Bulletin; read previous cub updates here. Please note that the Zoo is temporarily closed as a public health precaution to help prevent the spread of COVID-19