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#PandaStory: A Short and Sweet (Potato) Update

  • Five-month-old giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji leans against rockwork in his habitat with one paw up on a cylindrical-shaped enrichment toy and nibbles on his first biscuit.
    Feb. 8, 2021: Five-month-old giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji nibbles on his first biscuit. Keepers say he has a hearty appetite!
  • Five-month-old giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji lays on his back and licks cooked sweet potato off an enrichment toy cradled in his arms.
    Feb. 7, 2021: Five-month-old giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji licks cooked sweet potato off his enrichment toy.
  • A giant panda cub sits on rockwork, holding onto a large "plate" covered in cooked sweet potato
    Feb. 10, 2021: Five-month-old giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji licks cooked sweet potato off his enrichment toy.
  • Five-month-old giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji crawls over a pile of bamboo on the rockwork in his indoor habitat.
    Feb. 10, 2021: Five-month-old giant panda Xiao Qi Ji crawls over mother Mei Xiang's bamboo.

Happy Lunar New Year! Our 5-month-old giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji kicked off the week by enjoying a new treat Feb. 8. The panda team gave him a large, nutrient-rich biscuit to nibble on. Just like his parents—mother Mei Xiang and father Tian Tian—Xiao Qi Ji held the biscuit in his pseudo thumb while he ate.

A pseudo thumb is an elongated and enlarged wrist bone covered with a fleshy pad of skin. This “extra” digit enables both giant pandas and red pandas to easily grasp bamboo. (Or, in Xiao Qi Ji’s case, an enrichment toy smeared with sweet potato!)

Although Xiao Qi Ji’s main source of nutrition is still Mei Xiang’s milk, he seems to have enjoyed sampling sweet potato, bamboo and biscuits over the last few weeks. He has a great appetite and gained nearly two pounds since last week. On Wednesday, our plump panda cub tipped the scales at 11.29 kilograms, or 24.8 pounds. Xiao Qi Ji is a very active cub and lately has been perfecting his running skills, chasing after Mei Xiang during play.

We look forward to the day when Xiao Qi Ji can go outside with Mei Xiang for the first time. While the week’s wintry weather was not on our side, it did give us an opportunity to add a fun new hammock to the climbing structure in their yard. We will be sure to share the highlights of his next big milestone with you when the weather permits.

This story appears in the Feb. 12 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.