#PandaStory: Venturing Where the Sidewalk Ends

This update was written by assistant curator of giant pandas Laurie Thompson and keeper Marty Dearie.

Just a few days shy of turning 6 months old, giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji accompanied his mother, Mei Xiang, into their outdoor habitat for the first time. Around 7:30 a.m. Feb. 16, we opened the door that separates their indoor and outdoor habitats. Mei Xiang made her way to a fresh pile of bamboo outside, but our cub did not follow. He was too busy playing in the den to notice that his mother left!

We closed the door to the yard, went into the den and called Xiao Qi Ji to get his attention. He followed us onto the patio—a covered area that connects the bears’ indoor and outdoor enclosures. We stepped out of the enclosure, closed the keeper door and opened the gate to give Xiao Qi Ji access to the yard.

Mei Xiang heard the door open and paused her breakfast to investigate the noise. She came over to Xiao Qi Ji and spent a few moments with him on the patio, then turned and walked back to her bamboo. This time, he trotted after her.  

Much like his siblings Tai Shan, Bao Bao and Bei Bei were during their first outings, Xiao Qi Ji was cautious yet curious. Mostly, he stayed on the sidewalk at the back of the yard. Mei Xiang continued to calmly eat while her son ventured onto the grass and pawed at one of their enrichment toys. He walked along the wall of the panda house, sniffed the doors and gates and took in all the new sights and smells. Xiao Qi Ji peeked into the “howdy” window that looks into his father Tian Tian’s yard. He also tested out his climbing skills on the mesh that separates the keeper area from the bears’ yard, but he didn’t get far before he lost his grip and dropped just a few inches to the ground below.

The whole time Xiao Qi Ji was outside, the door to their indoor habitat was open. He wandered in and out a few times, and after about 45 minutes he decided he had had enough of the outdoors and didn’t come back out. Mei Xiang shifted inside shortly thereafter, and the pair made their way to another enclosure that was filled with fresh bamboo. Even though Xiao Qi Ji stayed close to “home base,” his first outing in the yard was successful!

We are keeping a close eye on the weather and hope to give Xiao Qi Ji another opportunity to go outside soon. Lately, the temperature has been below freezing, and the precipitation conditions—sleet and snow—are not ideal for acclimating him to a new environment for an extended period of time. So, until the weather warms, he will stay inside where the temperature is a balmy 50 degrees Fahrenheit during the cooler months and 65 degrees in the warmer months. 

If you are hoping to catch Xiao Qi Ji’s next trip outside on the Giant Panda Cam, tune in between 7:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. EDT. Eventually, he will spend more time outside as he becomes comfortable with exploring and navigating the outdoor habitat.

This story appears in the Feb. 19 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.