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.
As I mentioned in my last update, Xiao Qi Ji is starting to learn the basics of husbandry training. He is quickly mastering “target”—touching his nose to a ball on the end of a dowel. As he does so, we reward him with a piece of apple or sweet potato. When we need Xiao Qi Ji to move from one space to another, we use target training to encourage him to do so on his own. This has already come in handy on several occasions when he has not followed Mei Xiang outside first thing in the morning.
As we head into Memorial Day, we look forward to seeing even more of you at the Zoo! Please note that for the safety of our animals, visitors and staff, you will need a free timed-entry or paid parking pass to enter the Zoo, as well as a separate Asia Trail/Panda Pass if you wish to see our giant panda family. We appreciate your patience and understanding as we navigate this “new normal.” Remember, you can always see them on the Giant Panda Cam!
Behind these “aww’-inspiring moments, an expert team works tirelessly to provide our panda family with everything they need to thrive, ensuring a bright future for this species. If this cub sparks joy for you, please consider making a donation to the Zoo. On behalf of the animals we care for and protect: thank you!