#PandaStory: Panda Cub Preschool

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

As keeper Mariel Lally mentioned in our last #PandaStory update, giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji will soon learn a few husbandry behaviors that enable him to voluntarily participate in his own healthcare. One of the first behaviors animals learn is to “target.” We present them with a buoy on a stick, and they instinctively sniff to investigate the new, interesting object. Every time Xiao Qi Ji touches his nose to the buoy, we say “good job” and give him a treat—usually a piece of sweet potato, apple or pear. Training is completely voluntary, and at such a young age, he’s often too sleepy in the morning to participate. For now, we are familiarizing him with these objects and going at his pace.

On May 9, Xiao Qi Ji climbed up a tree and his mother, Mei Xiang, sat near the base. While he was in the canopy, he dropped some small branches and twigs onto his mother below! She seemed to relish this play behavior because she picked up the branches and scent-anointed with them.

Xiao Qi Ji is getting the hang of shifting between his indoor and outdoor enclosures. On May 10, he followed me outside all on his own and got a nice piece of cooked sweet potato as his reward.

Our growing cub continues to make good gains. On May 11, Xiao Qi Ji weighed in at 43.5 pounds (19.75 kilograms).

Recently, keepers gave Xiao Qi Ji a tub with a few inches of water inside. He climbed in, drank some water, then sat in it for a few moments before he rolled out. He seemed like he had fun playing in the tub; time will tell if he shares his father’s fondness for playing in pools and hoses when he is older.

Tian Tian is still in rut, but that will wind down over the next few weeks. Most of his attention these days is focused on bamboo shoots, which he has been enthusiastically eating!

Limited-edition Xiao Qi Ji-themed tees, hat and face mask in red, blue and black. Text reads: Panda Power Play: Pandamonium Collection. Available for a limited time only. Shop now.

Last but not least, we are excited to share that D.C.’s biggest celebearities are showing some panda pride for their hometown hockey team, the Washington Capitals, as they head into the NHL playoffs. Visit NationalZooPanda.com to get your paws on some new limited-edition hockey merchandise inspired by Xiao Qi Ji. Go Caps!  

This story appears in the May 14 issue of the Giant Panda Bulletin; read previous cub updates here. Tune in to the Giant Panda Cam. 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. Reserve your free timed-entry or paid parking pass here.