October has been a fun month for our 14-month-old giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji, who explores his environment through sensory enrichment! One autumn morning, keepers were cleaning the indoor enclosure that he shares with his mother, Mei Xiang, when they both approached the mesh and “supervised” our work.
Since we were not quite ready to let them back inside, we gave them some bubble bath solution—one of Mei Xiang’s favorite scents. When giant pandas enjoy a particular scent, they rub it all over themselves, a behavior called scent-anointing. It turned into a wrestling match with both pandas covered in the bubble bath, and the fur on their ears became spiky from the solution. It was great to see Xiao Qi Ji enjoy the scent in the same manner as his mother and with his mother!
It’s important that our pandas get some mental exercise every day, too. Puzzle feeders are a great tool for sharpening their problem-solving skills. Recently, Xiao Qi Ji received his very own puzzle feeder—a large purple ball with multiple holes. Since the openings are quite large, we will fill the feeder with hay to make the treats a little tougher to get out. Xiao Qi Ji must spin, shake or roll the feeder around until all of the biscuits and hay have fallen out. It’s a good mental workout since it takes both brain power and energy to move the treats from the puzzle feeder to his belly.
Every day, Xiao Qi Ji becomes more independent and seems to enjoy spending time by himself. While Mei Xiang enjoys her morning breakfast, her son busies himself with his own “projects”—futzing with tree branches, exploring the trees and climbing structure in his outdoor habitat, or scaling the rockwork in his indoor habitat. Occasionally, he is so preoccupied with playing that he chooses not to spend time with his mother until the afternoon!