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#PandaStory: A Symbol of Inspiration and Hope

As the calendar turns to 2021, it is human nature to reflect on the moments that sparked inspiration in an otherwise challenging year. Giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji—who wobbled and walked, feistily barked at mother Mei Xiang and scaled the rockwork in his habitat—gave many who follow his milestones a reason to smile. Assistant curator Laurie Thompson’s December 2020 updates remind us that his #PandaStory serves as a source of hope for brighter days ahead.

A young giant panda cub with black-and-white fur, round ears and small claws stands on a table in the indoor panda habitat at the Smithsonian's National Zoo during a routine exam

Dec. 2 | Xiao Qi Ji Practices His Crawling and Walking Skills

On Dec. 2, our giant panda team took some quick measurements to track Xiao Qi Ji’s growth. During the exam, he was bright-eyed and eager to practice his crawling and walking skills on the tabletop. He would not sit still on the scale, so we placed him in a tub to ensure we recorded an accurate weight. Xiao Qi Ji is making good gains and weighed 12.4 pounds (5.66 kilograms) on Wednesday. From the tip of his nose to the base of his tail, he measured 25.6 inches (65 centimeters). He has also put over an inch on his midsection since his last veterinary exam Nov. 18. Back then, he measured 18.1 inches around his abdomen. Now, he measures 19.2 inches (49 centimeters).  

Read the original update here.

Dec. 11 | Xiao Qi Ji Is On The Move

Our giant panda cub is on the move! At 3.5 months old, Xiao Qi Ji’s movements are a mixture of crawling and walking. He has been practicing his coordination, though, and he is working on getting his back legs positioned under him and gaining traction on the floor of the indoor habitat he shares with his mother, Mei Xiang. Day by day, his walking skills improve. A few times when mom took him on “field trips” to the larger enclosure and placed him on the floor, we saw him move back toward the den all on his own.

Xiao Qi JI is becoming more curious about the world around him and aware of his surroundings. This week, he even mouthed some of Mei Xiang’s bamboo. At this age, he still relies on mom’s milk for all of his nutritional needs. Around 1 year old, bamboo and other solid foods will make up the majority of his diet. However, Xiao Qi Ji may nurse for comfort up to 18 months of age.

On Dec. 9, Xiao Qi Ji had his fourth veterinary exam, where he received his third and final round of canine distemper vaccine (until it’s time for a booster). He squirmed throughout the exam, so we were unable to obtain our usual length and girth measurements. He did stay on the scale just long enough for us to record his weight, which is now 13.4 pounds (6.1 kilograms). Our chief veterinarian, Dr. Don Neiffer, checked the cub’s eyes and mouth, listened to his heart and lungs, and felt his muscles. Overall, our wiggly cub is very healthy!

It won’t be long before Xiao Qi Ji explores the outdoor habitat with Mei Xiang. Before he does so, however, he must receive his rabies vaccine and be able to fully walk and climb on his own. Those milestones are still a few weeks away. For now, we are watching our determined little cub continue to grow and learn how to be a giant panda.

You may have heard that giant pandas will continue to live at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo through early December 2023. We are so happy to have this new agreement in place with our Chinese colleagues and look forward to continuing our contributions to giant panda conservation and watching Xiao Qi Ji grow. 

Read the original update here.

Dec. 18 | A Feisty Xiao Qi Ji

This week, we saw the sassy side of our almost 4-month-old giant panda cub, Xiao Qi JI. Around 6:30 a.m. Dec. 16, he and his mother, Mei Xiang, were spending time in their den. While Xiao Qi Ji rested on the floor, Mei Xiang rearranged her nest and played with some pieces of bamboo. This went on for several minutes, when suddenly our little cub let out a loud and feisty bark!

Mei Xiang jumped and was a bit startled by her son’s outburst. It seemed that the noise from her rustling, or perhaps the bamboo moving around him, disturbed his sleep. We have heard him vocalize in this manner before. When our giant panda team enters the keeper side of the den to remove the large pieces of bamboo that Mei Xiang brought in overnight, inevitably the leaves rustle. Xiao Qi Ji has no qualms about expressing his displeasure with this noise, but neither did his older siblings Tai Shan, Bao Bao and Bei Bei when they were this age. After a few minutes of nest building and eating, Mei Xiang picked up Xiao Qi Ji and tended to him.

Later that day, the Washington, D.C. area saw our first wintry weather of the season. Both Tian Tian and Mei Xiang spent some time outside as the snow fell, but neither seemed interested in playing, perhaps because it was only a dusting. While Mei Xiang explored her outdoor habitat, we were able to do a quick checkup on Xiao Qi Ji, who now weighs 14.5 pounds (6.6 kilograms)! His teeth are coming in nicely, too. Thus far, he has 4 canines, some incisors and a few others just starting to erupt.

In the future, if enough snow accumulates we may bring some inside for Xiao Qi Ji to explore. This time around, though, he stayed inside his climate-controlled den, resting peacefully. 

Read the original update here.

Jan. 1 | Xiao Qi Ji vs. The Rock Wall

Giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji continues to explore and take on new challenges—like climbing up rockwork in the indoor habitat he shares with mother Mei Xiang. As shown in this clip of “Xiao Qi Ji vs. the Rock Wall,” he’s getting stronger, more coordinated and is still an adorable little nugget.

Read the original update here.

This story was featured in the January 2021 issue of National Zoo News.

Behind these “aww’-inspiring moments, an expert team works tirelessly to provide our panda family with everything they need to thrive, ensuring a bright future for this species. If this cub sparks joy for you, please consider making a donation to the Giant Panda Conservation Fund. On behalf of the animals we care for and protect: thank you! 

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