#PandaStory: An Observant Cub

This update was written by Asia Trail keeper Mariel Lally.

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). 

Giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji clings to a tree in his outdoor habitat.

We are still learning more about Xiao Qi Ji’s personality as he grows up and becomes less reliant on Mei Xiang. However, we can say that he is very engaged with his surroundings, environment and his keepers! Some days, he seems to have his own agenda. Xiao Qi Ji spends the majority of his day outside, though occasionally he will come inside with Mei Xiang for a mid-day nap. In the outdoor habitat, he has discovered a new favorite sleeping spot. Unfortunately, it is in a tree that is difficult to see on the Giant Panda Cam. If he seems to be “missing” from the camera, he is probably up his favorite tree!

Mei Xiang enjoys a fruitsicle while Xiao Qi Ji nibbles on bamboo. 

This weekend, our giant panda family will be celebrating International Family Equality Day! Tune in to the Giant Panda Cam at 1 p.m. on Sunday, May 2, to watch the bears enjoy some special rainbow-themed treats made by our talented team of nutritionists. Other animal families will be getting into the holiday spirit, too, including our naked mole rat colony (at 10 a.m.), African lion pride (at 11 a.m.) and Asian elephant herd (at 2 p.m.). We hope you will join us as we recognize the beauty and importance of all families!

This story appears in the April 30 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; it will reopen May 21.