#PandaStory: A Parcel of Sweet Potato for Xiao Qi Ji

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

Just like his mother, Mei Xiang, our giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji is curious yet cautious about the world around him. Yesterday—the day our cub turned five months old—we decided to introduce him to something new. Using a piece of bamboo shred as a spoon, we 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 we offered him more, he wouldn’t stop nibbling on it!

Xiao Qi Ji clearly enjoyed this new treat, which is not surprising since both Mei Xiang and his father, 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.

Even though Xiao Qi Ji is beginning to sample some new foods, Mei Xiang’s milk is still his main source of nutrition. Around 1 year old, bamboo and other solid foods make up the majority of a panda's diet. However, Xiao Qi Ji may nurse for comfort up to 18 months of age. He typically nurses at night and in the early morning. On Wednesday, Jan. 20, he weighed 20.79 pounds (9.45 kilograms), and continues to make good gains.

Xiao Qi Ji has access to the leaf-eater biscuits and fruit that Mei Xiang receives. However, she is a pro at getting them out of her enrichment puzzle feeders, so there isn’t anything left for him to try! He doesn’t seem to mind since he has his own toys. This week, he received a small red ball, just like the one his older brother Bei Bei had! In the coming weeks, we will offer Xiao Qi Ji some fruit and softened biscuits when Mei Xiang is enjoying some alone time outside.

Looking for Tian Tian on the Giant Panda Cam? He is often on in the early morning and early afternoon while we are cleaning and placing bamboo in the bears’ enclosures. If you tune in at just the right time, you may even spot him doing some of the rut behaviors I mentioned in my last update!

This story appears in the Jan. 22  issue of the Giant Panda Bulletin; read previous cub updates here. Don’t forget to mark your calendar and tune in to the free livestream with Xiao Qi Ji Jan. 27 at 1 p.m.

Please note that the Zoo is temporarily closed as a public health precaution to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.