#PandaStory: Two Birthdays Are Twice As Nice

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

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

Last Saturday, Aug. 21, was a big day for our “little miracle.” Giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji celebrated his first birthday and shared not one but two delicious fruitsicle cakes with his mother, Mei Xiang. We want to thank everyone who tuned in to the Giant Panda Cam or who came to the Zoo to see the birthday boy enjoy his special day. We were glad to share this happy occasion with you!

Mei Xiang was the first to step outside at 7:30 a.m. She took in the warm, clear morning, then set her sights on a frozen fruitsicle cake in the distance. While Xiao Qi Ji dawdled near the Panda House, Mei Xiang made a b-line for the sweet treat, lovingly prepared by our talented commissary keeper Nick Schiraldi.

Our giant panda cub and his mother, Mei Xiang, received two panda-friendly fruitsicle cakes.

She opted to eat the bamboo stalks that sprouted from the cake first. When Xiao Qi Ji trotted over to his mother, he reached for the decorative fruit and veggie slices that adorned the cake. Once those had all been consumed, he grabbed the giant heart made of frozen-diluted apple juice and rolled around in the greenery.

Xiao Qi Ji is growing up, and that means he is less reliant on mother Mei Xiang’s milk for his nutritional needs (though he may still nurse for comfort from time to time). Just like his parents, he now receives his very own diet bin from our Department of Nutrition Science. In addition to bamboo, Xiao Qi Ji regularly eats apples, carrots, nutritionally fortified biscuits and, of course, cooked sweet potatoes. Keepers feed these items to him throughout the day when Mei Xiang is not around since she would likely eat it first! Our growing cub now weighs 61 pounds (27.8 kilograms).

China’s new Ambassador to the United States, Qin Gang, reflects on our precious panda’s special day and our shared goal to conserve the species.

As keeper Mariel Lally mentioned in her last update, it seems that Xiao Qi Ji can make anything and everything a fun toy. Last week, however, he received a new enrichment item every day as part of his week-long birthday celebration. These toys 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.

Panda keepers picked out seven "beary" special toys to give Xiao Qi Ji during his birthday week. In the second clip, he holds the puzzle feeder over his head and shakes the treats inside right into his mouth just like his mother, Mei Xiang! 

Whenever Xiao Qi Ji approaches a new toy, he sniffs it, paws at it, gives it a nibble—or does some combination of all three. Of all the items he received, the blue rocker seems to be his favorite. He climbs inside it, rolls around and has even slid down the hill in it a few times!

Giant panda Tian Tian rests in a tree in his outdoor habitat.

We are celebrating yet another special birthday today. Xiao Qi Ji’s father, Tian Tian, is 24 years old! Keep an eye on the Giant Panda Cam—you may see Tian Tian enjoying his fruitsicle cake, some decorative birthday boxes, and a new toy!

Giant panda keeper Mariel Lally models products featured in Xiao Qi Ji's first birthday merch drop.

Conservation success stories—like the birth of a giant panda cub—are worth celebrating all year long. To commemorate Xiao Qi Ji’s first birthday, we have launched a limited-edition collection featuring tees, totes, mugs and other products inspired by our special bear. If you would like to pick up a memento, head over to NationalZooPanda.com. Proceeds from your purchase benefit animal care and conservation science at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. Thank you for your continued support. We couldn’t save species without you!  

This story appears in the Aug. 27 issue of the Giant Panda Bulletin; read previous cub updates here. Tune in to the Giant Panda Cam. Planning a visit to the Zoo? Reserve your free entry pass or paid parking pass here.