#PandaStory: Ready For Independence

This update was written by Michael Brown-Palsgrove, curator of Asia Trail and giant pandas.

Our 2.5-year-old giant panda cub, Xiao Qi Ji, reached yet another big milestone this week. As of Feb. 27, he no longer shares an enclosure with his mother, Mei Xiang.

In the wild, adult giant pandas live solitary lives. We knew that separation was inevitable and closely monitored Mei Xiang and Xiao Qi Ji’s behaviors, as they would dictate to us when the timing was right.

As keeper Mariel Lally mentioned in a Dec. 20 update, our team has been encouraging Xiao Qi Ji to explore on his own. Initially, he stuck close by Mei Xiang’s side when they explored the third outdoor habitat. Eventually, though, he grew comfortable with exploring by himself and did not need to keep Mei Xiang in his sights or follow her around.

VIDEO| Mei Xiang was not in a mood to play with Xiao Qi Ji on Jan. 17, 2023. 

The biggest change, as we noted in our Jan. 26 update, was the dynamic between Xiao Qi Ji and Mei Xiang. As he grew bigger and stronger, she became less tolerant of her son’s rambunctious antics. When she was not in the mood to play, she would vocalize or chase him away.

VIDEO| Xiao Qi Ji is on a roll! On Jan. 19, the frisky 2.5-year-old tumbled around his outdoor habitat and showed off his unique somersault style.  

Over the past few weeks, Xiao Qi Ji found activities to occupy himself that did not include Mei Xiang. While she spent time in habitat three, he would play, climb and eat in habitat two. Although they have been in different habitats during the day, the time alone has not seemed to bother Xiao Qi Ji. Even when we reunited them in the evening, Xiao QI Ji often moved away from his mother and slept in the adjacent indoor habitat. Although we anticipate a period of adjustment, all behavioral signs indicated Xiao Qi Ji was ready for independence.

VIDEO| Mei Xiang has been an excellent mother to Xiao Qi Ji. Here's a look back at when he was just two days old and a pink, squealy cub! 

This milestone marks the end of an era for our giant panda team. Now that Xiao Qi Ji is prepared to live on his own, Mei Xiang has completed her motherly duties. It has been a tremendous joy watching Xiao Qi Ji grow from a tiny, pink and delicate cub into the robust and independent juvenile he is today—largely due to what a tremendous, dedicated and devoted mother Mei Xiang is.

This story appears in the Mar. 1 issue of the Giant Panda Bulletin; read previous cub updates here. Want to see the pandas in person? Plan your visit! The Giant Panda Cam is generously sponsored by Boeing.