#PandaStory: A Panda With A Personality That Shines

This update was written by giant panda keeper Mariel Lally.

In just three weeks, our giant panda team will celebrate a major milestone: Xiao Qi Ji’s first birthday. This past year has been a challenging one, in many respects, but watching this little cub develop into the smart, observant, inquisitive and goofy bear he is today has brought us—and fans around the world—a lot of joy.

As a keeper, much of my time is spent observing and interacting with Xiao Qi Ji. His personality is very evident! Watching him run around the habitat with a bounce to his step puts a smile on my face. Xiao Qi Ji has a knack for turning anything into a fun toy—from enrichment items, to pieces of bamboo, to sticks that he finds outside.

Our clever cub is also inquisitive. When Xiao Qi Ji investigates his environment, he tends to be more cautious than his brothers and sister were. Whether climbing up or down, he takes his time and is careful about his footing. He very rarely misses a step! 

Giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji lays on his back and eats an apple juice fruitsicle in his indoor enclosure.
Fruitsicles are one of Xiao Qi Ji's favorite foods! These refreshing ice treats are made from a mixture of diluted fruit juice and water. 

All around, Xiao Qi Ji seems to make good choices. He comes indoors (where there is air conditioning) when the heat of the day sets in. He readily comes to keepers when we call his name—a behavior known as “recalling.” Last, but not least, he has become a super star with husbandry training!

Participation in training sessions is completely voluntary, but Xiao Qi Ji almost always chooses to interact with us—especially when a sweet potato reward is involved. If you regularly follow our #PandaStory updates, you may recall that he mastered a few behaviors, including target training and climbing upon a scale. On July 28, he weighed 26.5 kilograms, or 58.3 pounds.

In my last update, I mentioned that it took Xiao Qi Ji only two tries to master standing up on his hind legs on cue. This behavior enables us to check for any limb weakness or injuries that may need veterinary attention.

Recently, we introduced a new behavior, voluntary blood draw training, which allows us to monitor his health further. Just like his parents, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, Xiao Qi Ji follows a target into the training area. In this space, he is trained to reach his arm through a small window and hold on to a bar. We always ensure it is a fun experience and reward him with honey water from a squeeze bottle. We are still in the beginning stages of this behavior, so stay tuned for updates as he masters it!   

One of my favorite memories from the past month was watching him figure out how enrichment items work. One day, I saw him lean back and hold a puzzle feeder toy above his head—the same way Mei Xiang does! It was already empty as Mei Xiang had eaten the biscuits inside (they were hers, after all), but it seemed like he tried his mom’s technique to see if there were any crumbs left.

Giant pandas Mei Xiang and Xiao Qi Ji eat mom's 23rd birthday cake together.

The more we work with Xiao Qi Ji as he grows, the more he shows traits that are very similar to Mei Xiang’s. I have enjoyed seeing his personality blossom over the past year, but the best part has been watching Mei Xiang interact with her cub as he grows. On July 22, the pair even shared a fruitsicle cake to celebrate her 23rd birthday!

This story appears in the July 30 issue of the Giant Panda Bulletin; read previous cub updates here. Tune in to the Giant Panda Cam. Planning a visit to the Zoo? Reserve your free entry pass or paid parking pass here.