On Oct. 31, the whole giant panda family got into the Halloween spirit, thanks to the Zoo’s talented Department of Nutrition Sciences team. They whipped up some not-so-spooky “snack-o-lantern” treats for the cub’s parents, Tian Tian and Mei Xiang, made of shredded carrots, applesauce and diluted apple juice pressed into a pumpkin using a Jack-O-Lantern-shaped mold. Keepers presented the 10-week-old cub with a pumpkin as well. Many of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s animals receive pumpkins as a fun enrichment item on Halloween because it gives them something new to smell, touch and investigate.
On Nov. 8, Mei Xiang rested in the doorway of the den. Her son crawled around the den and moved toward her. Mei Xiang stretched her forepaw in his direction and appeared to coax him toward her. After a few seconds, she picked her son up, rolled over with him and placed him on the floor of their large indoor enclosure. He rested in the spot for almost an hour while Mei Xiang ate bamboo nearby. This was a big milestone for the Zoo’s little cub!
At 12 weeks old, the cub’s attempts at crawling and walking were progressing nicely. He was deliberate in his actions and seemed to move in the direction he intended. His upper incisors started to erupt at the gumline, too.
During his third veterinary exam, the 13-week-old cub received his second canine distemper vaccine and was very tough—he didn’t move or vocalize at all at the prick of the needle. At 3 months old, he weighed 10.4 pounds (4.72 kilograms), measured 22 inches long (56 centimeters).
Month 4 | New Name, New Attitude
Thanks to fans all over the world, the Zoo’s giant panda cub received his name Nov. 23—Xiao Qi Ji, which means “little miracle” in Mandarin Chinese. In an exciting new development, Mei Xiang took Xiao Qi Ji on a “field trip” to the outdoor patio of their enclosure. From this space, he observed keepers working and peeked into Tian Tian’s enclosure. In one instance, Xiao Qi Ji was within Tian Tian’s sightlines, but dad was so focused on whether the keepers had food that he didn’t notice his son!
The patio floor is not as smooth as the floors of their indoor enclosure, so the cub’s claws and feet were able to get good traction. On Nov. 24, keepers observed Xiao Qi Ji “catapult” himself forward all on his own.
Then, at 3 months and 5 days old, Xiao Qi Ji took his first steps! On Thanksgiving morning, he rested just outside the den while his mother slept inside. After months of practice, he positioned all four feet beneath him and took a few wobbly steps toward her before toppling over.
With age came the sassy side of Xiao Qi Ji. Around 6:30 a.m. Dec. 16, he and Mei Xiang were spending time in their den. While Xiao Qi Ji rested on the floor, Mei Xiang rearranged her nest and played with some pieces of bamboo. This went on for several minutes, when suddenly our little cub let out a loud and feisty bark! Mei Xiang jumped and was a bit startled by her son’s outburst. It seemed that the noise from her rustling, or perhaps the bamboo moving around him, disturbed his sleep. After a few minutes of nest building and eating, Mei Xiang picked up Xiao Qi Ji and tended to him.
As 2020 drew to a close, Xiao Qi Ji’s teeth were coming in nicely—he had 4 canines, some incisors and a few others were starting to erupt. A checkup revealed that the cub weighed 14.5 pounds (6.6 kilograms).
Month 5 | A Playful Panda Cub
At the dawn of the new year, Xiao Qi Ji took on new challenges, like climbing up the rockwork in his indoor habitat. Personality-wise, Xiao Qi Ji seems to take after his mother. Like Mei Xiang, he is careful and cautious when it comes to exploring his environment. He is very deliberate about the paths he takes when traveling up or down the rockwork—more so than siblings Tai Shan, Bao Bao or Bei Bei were.
In January, the 4-month-old cub’s interest in his surroundings really took off. While Mei Xiang ate, Xiao Qi Ji often sat right by her side. As she discarded bamboo, he gathered the pieces in his arms, rolled around and playfully gnawed on them. Keepers gave him two toys to investigate: a small red egg (perfectly sized for a panda cub) and an empty PVC puzzle feeder. These enrichment items encourage the giant pandas to keep physically active and mentally sharp; they also give the bears an opportunity to use their natural behaviors and choose how to spend their time.
When Xiao Qi Ji explored the habitat and happened upon these toys, he usually stopped for a few minutes to paw at them, pick them up and give them a nibble. He seemed to explore the world with his mouth. He nibbled on everything from his paws and enrichment toys to Mei Xiang’s ears. Xiao Qi Ji often tried to initiate a play session with a few not-so-ferocious bites. After Mei Xiang shifted outside in the morning, he emerged from the den to “supervise” the keepers as they cleaned and got the habitat ready for her return.
The day Xiao Qi Ji turned five months old, keepers decided to introduce him to something new. Using a piece of bamboo shred as a spoon, they scraped some cooked sweet potato onto the end, then handed it over to Xiao Qi Ji. He grabbed the bamboo in his mouth, paused for a moment to take in the new taste, then lay back and licked the remainder. When they offered him more, he wouldn’t stop nibbling on it!
The day before, the sweet cub weighed 20.79 pounds (9.45 kilograms) and was making good gains. Xiao Qi Ji clearly enjoyed this new treat, which is not surprising since both Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, are also fond of sweet potatoes. In addition to bamboo, nutrient-rich biscuits, carrots and apples, sweet potatoes are part of our pandas’ balanced diet.
Month 6 | Snow and Summits
On Jan. 27, the giant panda team hosted their first-ever virtual encounter with Xiao Qi Ji. During the live broadcast, they 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! 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.
Xiao Qi Ji also tried a new food: bamboo! Keepers saw him munch on some of Mei Xiang’s leftover leaves.