#PandaStory: A Good Listener

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

A string of sunny days has graced the Washington, D.C. region, much to the delight of our 6-month-old giant panda cub, Xiao Qi Ji. The first thing he does when he goes outside in the morning is trot over to the wooden structure in the middle of the yard. With such a fun playground to climb, he hasn’t shown much interest in trees yet. After expending so much energy climbing, balancing, hanging and tumbling , Xiao Qi Ji often tuckers out and takes a nap on the hammock at the front of the yard. We’ve had to retrieve our sleepy cub from his favorite perch twice when it was time to come inside.

On Monday morning, Xiao Qi Ji’s mother, Mei Xiang, was ready to come inside, but he was all the way at the front of the yard. I called his name, and a few moments later he trotted up to the keeper area and followed her inside. I was so surprised he listened when I called—it was a highlight of my week!

Although Xiao Qi Ji will continue to nurse until he is around a year-and-a-half old, on Wednesday I noticed him drinking water out of the basin in Mei Xiang’s den. He has also lapped water from the free-flowing pipe in Mei Xiang’s outdoor pool. Seeing this behavior makes me wonder if Xiao Qi Ji will take after his father, Tian Tian, who enjoys splashing around in the hose when we clean. Time will tell! For now, we dropped the water in the pool for the cub’s safety.

Last week, Xiao Qi Ji’s reaction to his first taste of applesauce paled in comparison to the enthusiasm he showed for cooked sweet potato. This week, he tried some banana mushed onto a different enrichment toy. Even though he took several bites, his reaction was similar to the applesauce—he didn’t hate it, but he didn’t love it, either. It’s clear that sweet potato is still his favorite food. We had an opportunity to weigh him this week, and he continues to make good gains. He added another 1.5 pounds this week, coming in at 28.95 pounds (13.16 kilograms).

Lucky Giant Panda Cam viewers got a glimpse of Xiao Qi Ji being a bit innovative this week—he found his own enrichment toy! After spotting a small log in the enclosure, he dragged it into the den. It was the perfect size for our panda cub. Xiao Qi Ji held it close as he rolled around with it in his arms. He had a great time playing!

This story appears in the Mar. 5 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.