#PandaStory: Tumbles and Toys

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

Over the past few weeks, our giant panda team has observed cub Xiao Qi Ji spend more time exploring the large indoor enclosures he shares with his mother, Mei Xiang, and less time in their den. Mei Xiang seems to encourage this curiosity. The other day, she called to him while he was resting in the den, and he soon emerged and approached her.

Lately, he has been very interested in Mei Xiang’s activities. While she eats, he is often right by her side. As she discards bamboo, he gathers the pieces in his arms, rolls around and playfully gnaws on them. He tends to be more active and playful in the evenings, so tune into the Giant Panda Cam at night to see some adorable moments as they happen in real time.

Spending more time out of the den presents our cub with more opportunities to explore—and play! While we have presented Xiao Qi Ji with enrichment items before—most notably a pumpkin for Halloween—we have seen his interest in them grow exponentially since the beginning of January. These items encourage our giant pandas to keep physically active and mentally sharp; they also give the bears an opportunity to use their natural behaviors and choose how to spend their time.

With Xiao Qi Ji becoming more aware of and interested in his surroundings, keepers gave him two toys to investigate: a small red Jolly Egg (perfectly sized for a panda cub) and an empty PVC puzzle feeder. When Xiao Qi Ji is exploring the habitat and happens upon them, he usually stops for a few minutes to paw at them, pick them up and give them a nibble. If you would like to help us replenish some of our worn but well-loved toys, you can do so by making a donation to the Enrichment Trunk.

Some toys built for cubs are made from softer materials to help the animals grasp or chomp on them. Our team is very careful to watch Xiao Qi Ji as he plays during the day, since Mei Xiang’s more powerful teeth and jaws could damage the toys. Before we leave for the day, we remove these toys from the enclosure. Neither Mei Xiang nor Xiao Qi Ji seem to mind, content to eat or play with their bamboo overnight.

Personality-wise, Xiao Qi Ji seems to take after his mother. Like Mei Xiang, he is careful and cautious when it comes to exploring his environment. Now that he has mastered walking, he has started to practice his climbing skills. He is very deliberate about the paths he takes when traveling up or down the rockwork—more so than siblings Tai Shan, Bao Bao or Bei Bei were. He has taken a few tumbles here and there, but not nearly as many as his brothers and sister did at this age. Luckily, these bears are built to be robust and have thick, wooly fur to cushion their fall.

Now that Xiao Qi Ji is more mobile, we weigh our cub in a tub. He sits patiently for a moment or two, then starts climbing out, eager to explore again. Our “little” cub is growing larger by the day and weighed 18.4 pounds (8.39 kilograms) as of Jan. 6. That’s up four pounds from his Dec. 16 checkup.

Now that he has received his rabies vaccine, the next big milestone on the horizon will be exploring his outdoor habitat in the coming weeks. Meantime, we enjoy watching our little explorer practice (and perfect) his climbing skills indoors!

This story appears in the Jan. 11 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.