Three Bearthdays: A Panda Family Fête

Who’s black, white and ready to paw-ty? This year, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute celebrated 50 years of unprecedented achievement in the care, conservation, breeding and study of giant pandas. As part of the Pandaversary, sponsored by Boeing, Asia Trail keepers threw a bearthday fête fit for our beloved giant panda family. Fans from all over the world tuned in to the Giant Panda Cam to see Mei Xiang, Xiao Qi Ji and Tian Tian enjoy some extra-special treats made by the Zoo's talented Department of Nutrition Science team. Relive the pure panda joy below! 

July 22, 2022 | Mei Xiang Turns 24

Our female giant panda, Mei Xiang, celebrated her 24th birthday with a magnificent fruitsicle cake. The tiers were made of diluted apple juice and leaf eater biscuits, and garnished with bananas, apples and pears. 

Mei Xiang, whose name means “beautiful fragrance,” was born July 22, 1998 at the China Research and Conservation Center for the Giant Panda in Wolong, Sichuan Province. She arrived at the Zoo Dec. 6, 2000, on load from China. She has black hip-high "stockings" extending up her hind legs, and the black band across her shoulders is wider in the middle than Tian's. Her eye patches are oval, and a pale black band runs across the bridge of her nose. She weighs about 233 pounds.

She has given birth to four cubs: male Tai Shan, female Bao Bao, male Bei Bei and male Xiao Qi Ji. With the birth of her most recent cub (Xiao Qi Ji) at 22 years old, Mei Xiang is the oldest giant panda to give birth in the United States and the second oldest documented in the world. This is also the first time a Zoo in the United States has experienced a successful pregnancy and birth via artificial insemination using only frozen-thawed semen. 

Aug. 21, 2022 | Xiao Qi Ji Turns 2

Our youngest male giant panda, Xiao Qi Ji, turned 2 years old Aug. 21. He celebrated the special occasion with a festive fruitsicle cake. The three-tiered treat was adorned with a giant “2" and some of Xiao Qi Ji’s favorite foods, including apples, pears, bananas, sugar cane, sweet potato and bamboo. Conservation at its cutest!

Xiao Qi Ji, whose name means “Little Miracle,” was born Aug. 21, 2020, at Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute in Washington, D.C. Like any giant panda cub at his age, Xiao Qi Ji’s personality is a mix of sweet and sassy. In one moment, he will be quietly playing beside Mei Xiang while she eats breakfast. The next, he will boldly grab ahold of her stalk of bamboo, or try to sneak a biscuit from one of her puzzle feeders.

Like Mei Xiang, Xiao Qi Ji tends to be curious about his surroundings, cautious and careful. When it comes to play, however, he takes after his father, Tian Tian. Just like him, Xiao Qi Ji seems to enjoy when keepers tickle his paws, scratch his head or give his ears a gentle tug! Indulging his play behavior helps keepers build a trusting relationship with Xiao Qi Ji and lays the foundation for teaching him husbandry behaviors that enable him to voluntarily participate in his own health care. He continues to grow and currently weighs about 170 pounds. 

Aug. 27, 2022 | Tian Tian Turns 25

Adult male giant panda Tian Tian turned 25 Aug. 27; he enjoyed a birthday cake breakfast accompanied by a sweet serenade from adorning fans. Keepers created themed silver enrichment in honor of this chill panda dad's special day. The tiered cake included apple juice, leaf eater biscuit “icing,” apples, bananas, pears, sugar cane and bamboo. 

Tian Tian, whose name means "more and more," was born Aug. 27, 1997 at the China Research and Conservation Center for the Giant Panda in Wolong, Sichuan Province..Tian Tian has black "knee socks." The black band across his shoulders narrows in the middle, like the shape of a bow tie. His eye patches are shaped like kidney beans, and he has two black dots across the bridge of his nose. He weighs about 264 pounds.

He arrived at the Zoo Dec. 6, 2000, on load from China. Tian Tian is the father of four beloved giant pandas — Tai Shan, Bao Bao, Bei Bei and Xiao Qi Ji.

Giant Panda cub Xiao Qi Ji sticks his nose in his 2nd birthday ice cake on the rock formation in the front of an outdoor yard. The cake has a red 2 on the front and various colors on the side. Bamboo sticks out the top and back of the ice cake.

We want to thank everyone who tuned in to the Giant Panda Cam or who came to the Zoo to see the birthday bears enjoy their special days. We were glad to share this happy occasion with you!

This story appears in the September 2022 issue of National Zoo News. Get the latest updates on our giant panda family here. Curious to know more about the science behind animal snacks? Learn what goes into meal prepping for 2,700 animals in this "Day in the Life of a Commissary Keeper" diary!