#PandaStory: A Bear’s First Taste of Bamboo

This update was written by giant panda keeper Mariel Lally.

This was a big week for our little panda cub! On Wednesday, Jan. 27, the giant panda team hosted our first-ever virtual encounter with Xiao Qi Ji. An important part of saving species is being able to tell their stories, and it was wonderful to see in the comments that many of you are as enamored with our adorable ambassador as we are. Your kind words and support for our bears and our team are much appreciated, especially as the Zoo remains closed and we continue to navigate this “new normal” brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Xiao Qi Ji’s newest enrichment toy made an appearance in Wednesday’s broadcast. This week, we gave him a bright green ball with a small handle. Since it is made from a softer material than the adults’ toys, it’s perfect for him to chew on and sink his claws into. It is also scented like green apple, providing some olfactory enrichment, too!

Xiao Qi Ji with an enrichment jolly ball at Smithsonian's National Zoo.

During the livestream, this ball was at the center of a friendly game of tug-of-war between Xiao Qi Ji and keeper Marty Dearie. Don’t let Xiao Qi Ji’s small size fool you—he is remarkably strong! We watch his interactions closely to ensure these items never get too dinged up to the point where they are unsafe. As you can imagine, pandas can be tough on their toys. If you are in a position to give, you can help us purchase new toys when the old ones wear out by making a donation to our Enrichment Trunk.

Just before Xiao Qi Ji stole everyone’s hearts—and wrestled his new green ball away from Marty—we placed him on a scale for his weekly weigh-in. Since his last measurement seven days prior, our 5-month-old cub gained another two pounds. This week, he weighed 22 pounds (10 kilograms).

In her update last week, assistant curator Laurie Thompson mentioned that Xiao Qi Ji tried cooked sweet potato for the first time and was a big fan of this new food. This week, bamboo was on the menu. We saw him munching on some of his mother Mei Xiang’s leftover leaves.  

As Xiao Qi Ji’s walking and climbing skills improve, we are starting to see him explore more and more of his habitat. Yesterday, he walked out of the den, through both indoor enclosures, and over to the opposite den. He sat up and pressed his face against the “take out window” where we routinely feed Mei Xiang. It was hilarious to see our curious cub waiting at the same window for us!   

This story appears in the Jan. 29 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.