Anticipation and excitement were in the air last week, as the Smithsonian’s National Zoo reopened to the public for the first time since late November. Whenever our animal care team introduces a young animal to visitors for the first time, we try to do so gradually. That way, we can gauge their reaction and monitor how they respond to new faces, sounds and smells.
When our 9-month-old giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji made his first appearance to visitors May 21, he went about his daily routine and never skipped a beat. He napped in the canopy of his favorite tree in the morning. Then, in the early afternoon, he trotted inside the Panda House and played with his mother, Mei Xiang, while she rested on the rockwork. Of all four cubs, Xiao Qi Ji is the most reliable about coming inside for the night and regularly makes his way to the indoor habitat by 1 p.m.
Situated behind the scenes at the Panda House is an outdoor patio where we conduct husbandry training sessions. Within this area is a large scale that we use to obtain weights on Mei Xiang and Tian Tian. This week, it was Xiao Qi Ji’s turn! He stepped onto the scale and received a piece of cooked sweet potato as a reward. While he snacked on his favorite treat, we noted his weight: 45 pounds (20.7 kilograms). Then, he followed Mei Xiang through the chute and into their outdoor habitat.