#PandaStory: A Bubble Bath Wrestling Match

This update was written by giant panda keeper Mariel Lally.

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!

Although we still see Xiao Qi Ji nurse for comfort from time to time, the majority of his diet is made up of bamboo, fruit and high fiber biscuits. He receives his own diet twice a day; we feed him separately from Mei Xiang to ensure she does not eat his portions. Lately, he has become much more efficient at eating—not to mention protective of his treats. If Mei Xiang dares to come near “his” food, he can be seen and heard giving her a piece of his mind! When Xiao Qi Ji chooses to follow Mei Xiang around, he usually tries to sneak a bite of whatever she’s eating. He is growing nicely. At his last weigh-in, he tipped the scales at 72 pounds. This time last year—when he was just 9 weeks old—he weighed 7.5 pounds!

Red panda Asa received a pumpkin for Halloween enrichment.
Our red pandas Asa (pictured here) and Chris-Anne enjoyed some not-so-spooky Halloween treats, too! 

The giant panda team is looking forward to celebrating Halloween this Sunday. Tian Tian, Mei Xiang and Xiao Qi Ji along with red pandas Asa and Chris-Anne will receive pumpkins for enrichment, of course. And, I whipped up a few “candy corn” fruitsicles for them as well made from frozen-diluted apple juice and food coloring. Be sure to tune into the Giant Panda Cam on Sunday. You may catch them trick-or-treating! 

This story appears in the Oct. 29 issue of the Giant Panda Bulletin; read previous cub updates here. Tune in to the Giant Panda Cam. Planning a visit to the Zoo? Reserve your free entry pass or paid parking pass here.