Very soon, the giant panda team will begin to train our 8-month-old cub, Xiao Qi Ji, to voluntarily participate in his own healthcare. Using positive reinforcement training, we teach our pandas behaviors that enable us to monitor their overall health and examine them up close. For example, his parents Mei Xiang and Tian Tian will present different body parts for inspection and allow Zoo veterinarians to collect a blood sample or administer vaccines, among other behaviors. Participation in these activities is always voluntary, but they know they will receive a favorite treat as a reward if they participate.
Last week, our veterinary team conducted laser therapy treatment on Mei Xiang’s left shoulder. At 22 years old, she has osteoarthritis—a degenerative disease affecting joint cartilage and the underlying bone with associated pain and stiffness. This treatment helps to ease her discomfort and improve her overall quality of life. While the veterinary technicians were at work, Xiao Qi Ji entered the training chute and watched his mother while keepers and vet staff tended to her.
Xiao Qi Ji’s favorite playmate is his mother Mei Xiang. Given the choice between playing with her or his toys, he will pick mom every time.
Mei Xiang’s favorite reward is diluted honey water, and Xiao Qi Ji had his first taste of the sweet treat that day. It was no surprise that he seemed to enjoy it and squeezed himself next to Mei Xiang in an attempt to get more! At 8 months old, he eats nearly all of the same foods that his parents eat—bamboo, sweet potato, nutrient-rich fiber biscuits, pears and apples—on a regular basis. This well-balanced diet is helping him grow big and strong. On April 28, he weighed in at 41 pounds (18.6 kilograms).