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#PandaStory: Tickles and Treasure Hunting With Xiao Qi Ji

  • Giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji climbs on logs in his outdoor habitat.

It has been a quiet February at the David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat. Our 1.5-year-old cub, Xiao Qi Ji, is growing bigger and stronger by the day. On Feb. 21, he weighed in at 50.1 kilograms, which is just over 110 pounds.

Earlier this week, giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji went treasure hunting in a tree for some fun puzzle feeder enrichment! This #PandaStory moment is brought to you by Chase, proud sponsor of the Giant Panda Cam.

Regular Giant Panda Cam viewers know that our cub often climbs trees in his outdoor habitat. The dense foliage is one of his favorite spots to snooze. To encourage him to explore beyond the canopy, keepers wedged a PVC puzzle feeder into the branches of one of the evergreen trees our cub likes to climb. He maneuvered the feeder until it fell with a thud on the ground. Then, he was able to reap the rewards inside—high fiber biscuits!

Xiao Qi Ji learned how to extract food from the puzzle feeders by watching his mother, Mei Xiang. Like her, he tends to be curious about his surroundings, cautious and careful. When it comes to play, however, he takes after his father, Tian Tian.

Xiao Qi Ji approaches the mesh to receive some tickles and head scratches from assistant curator Laurie Thompson. These sweet moments help build trust between the Zoo’s pandas and their caretakers.

Earlier this week, Xiao Qi Ji was at the front of his outdoor habitat, eating bamboo. I was walking around the keeper area, retrieving some cleaning supplies when he spotted me and approached the mesh. To get my attention, he lay down on the ground, reached under the fence, spun around a few times, and put his head and feet up against the mesh. Tian Tian, too, will wander near the Panda House when he sees keepers, hoping for some food or attention. Just like his father, Xiao Qi Ji seems to enjoy when we tickle his paws, scratch his head or give his ears a gentle tug!

All of our giant pandas will solicit play throughout the year; with the adults, however, these behaviors are more common during breeding season. Sometimes, putting spice on the mesh or ground for scent enrichment encourages the adults to play. Recently, I sprinkled some cumin on the ground for Xiao Qi Ji, and he had a great time rolling around in it.

Since I had to get back to my cleaning duties, my play session with Xiao Qi Ji only lasted a few minutes. Though the experience is fun for both of us, interactions such as this also serve a purpose. It is important for Xiao Qi Ji to have a positive relationship with our giant panda team as he grows up. Indulging his play behavior helps us build a trusting relationship with him and lays the foundation for teaching him husbandry behaviors that enable him to voluntarily participate in his own health care.

This story appears in the Feb. 25 issue of the Giant Panda Bulletin; read previous cub updates here. Want to see the pandas in person? Plan your visit!