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#PandaStory: Xiao Qi Ji Reaches A Big Milestone

Giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji eats a bamboo shoot on the patio of his enclosure on May 22, 2022.

Xiao Qi Ji snacks on a bamboo shoot May 22, 2022. 

Fall is in the air, and so is one of our giant pandas’ favorite scents—pumpkin spice! For enrichment, we often sprinkle spices around Tian Tian, Mei Xiang and Xiao Qi Ji’s habitats to encourage them to explore and play. If you visit the Zoo in person or watch from afar on the Giant Panda Cam, you may see them rolling around and rubbing their ears. Likely, they just encountered a scent that they enjoy and are anointing themselves with it!

Last month, Xiao Qi Ji hit a major training milestone. Since he was about 9 months old, our now 2-year-old cub has been learning husbandry behaviors that enable him to voluntarily participate in his own health care. Over time, our team has built a positive relationship with Xiao Qi Ji, and his trust in us has laid the groundwork for these training sessions to be successful.  

We can’t stop (won’t stop) gushing over this guy! Our giant panda cub, Xiao Qi Ji, takes any opportunity he gets to play in water. He made quite a splash Aug. 28, 2022, as he played with a couple stalks of bamboo.

One important tool for monitoring our pandas’ overall health is blood draw training. Over the course of about 10 training sessions, our team worked closely with Xiao Qi Ji to get him comfortable with the medical procedure. To participate, he must enter a chute, place his arm through a small window, and hold on to a bar underhanded for a few moments.

Xiao Qi Ji is very familiar with the chute where the procedure occurs, as it is near the area where he gets weighed. He has also watched his mother, Mei Xiang, participate in procedures in this space. At his most recent weigh-in, Xiao Qi Ji tipped the scales at 81 kilograms, or 178 pounds!

He figured out that he needed to place his arm through the window in the very first training session—he’s a smart boy! It took about four sessions for him to learn that we wanted him to grab the bar underhanded, and it took another three sessions to perfect his holding of the bar reliably in the correct position. To simulate the prick of the needle, we used our fingers to gently poke his arm.

The morning of Oct. 17, Xiao Qi Ji entered the crate, put his arm through the window, and grabbed onto the bar like a pro. Panda veins are very large and easy to find, and when veterinary technician Kristine Williams inserted the needle, our cub had no reaction at all. It was a very proud moment for our team, and we are so happy that he mastered this important behavior so quickly! For his excellent participation, Xiao Qi Ji received honey water and lots of praise from his keepers.

  • Giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji participates in his first blood draw procedure Oct. 17, 2022.

    Giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji participates in his first blood draw procedure Oct. 17, 2022.

  • Giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji enjoys a tasty pear Oct. 15, 2022.

    Giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji enjoys a tasty pear Oct. 15, 2022. 

Like his father, Tian Tian, Xiao Qi Ji likes routine and can be somewhat impatient if things are out of the ordinary. That said, his personality is still very akin to Mei Xiang’s—a mix of sweet and sassy. Xiao Qi Ji continues to shares a habitat with his mother and, although they often choose to explore and go about their days separately, they still get along well.

In the wild, a weaning giant panda cub would gradually move further away from its mother, until it is unable to see or hear her. To encourage Xiao Qi Ji’s independence, we give them time apart in the morning for a few hours. As he gets older, we will extend that time.

Mei Xiang and Xiao Qi Ji enjoy some sugar cane at the David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat. After finishing her portion, Mei Xiang approached Xiao Qi Ji for more, but he successfully finished the treat on his own. 

Meanwhile, Tian Tian is doing great! He is showing signs of rut, or readying himself for breeding. For male giant pandas, rut typically lasts from November to May or June. During this period, we often see Tian Tian patrol his yard, scent-mark, exhibit play behaviors and solicit attention from keepers while they clean and set up food and enrichment his indoor habitat. Now that the weather is getting cooler, he often sleeps on his hammock filled with hay.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving this week, we want to thank everyone who follows Xiao Qi Ji’s #PandaStory. It is a joy sharing these amazing moments and milestones with you!

This story appears in the Nov. 25 issue of the Giant Panda Bulletin; read previous cub updates here. Want to see the pandas in person? Plan your visit! The Giant Panda Cam is generously sponsored by Boeing.