October was an exciting month for the Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s giant panda cub! His eyes and ears opened, mother Mei Xiang took him on “field trips” to explore the world outside their den and he grew bigger (and more adorable) by the day. The Panda Team keeps us all connected to these precious moments of pure panda cub joy. Get the #PandaStory from those who know the cub best: curator Michael Brown-Palsgrove, assistant curator Laurie Thompson and animal keeper Marty Dearie.
Oct. 5 | It’s A Boy!
After weeks of anticipation, our colleagues at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s Center for Conservation Genomics analyzed our giant panda cub’s DNA and determined that we have a male! I am looking forward to the cub taking his first steps in the next few weeks and watching him explore his habitat here at the Zoo. I wonder if his personality will be more like mother Mei Xiang’s or father Tian Tian’s?
Oct. 8 | Packing on the Pounds
The weather was beautiful yesterday, so the panda team set up some of Mei Xiang’s favorite enrichment items in her outdoor yard. (Read all about our giant and red panda enrichment program here.) While she was outside, keepers retrieved her cub from the den for a brief exam.
He was quiet and sleepy while we took his measurements. This week, he seemed to experience a growth spurt. He weighed 2.07 kilograms (4.5 pounds)—nearly a pound more than last week—and measured 15 inches from nose to tail tip. Our plump panda added an entire inch around his midsection! His abdominal girth measured 12.5 inches Sept. 30. Yesterday, that increased to 13.7 inches. All in all, we are happy that our cub is making good gains, and his growth and development are right on track.
Oct. 15 | Fruitsicles and Feistiness
Both of our giant panda cub’s eyes are fully open. This week, it was apparent that his ears are open as well. When keepers entered the den, he vocalized at the sound of the door opening. While he was on the exam table, he turned his head as we called out his measurements to see where our voices were coming from.
He was much more feisty yesterday than he has been for past exams and barked as he was being measured. Since his last weigh-in Oct. 7, he gained a pound. Now, he tips the scales at 2.47 kilograms (5.4 pounds). From the tip of his nose to the base of his tail, he measured 16.5 inches. His biggest gain, however, was around his midsection. He went from a 13.7-inch abdominal girth to 15.9 inches—a 2.2-inch increase!
Mei Xiang has started carrying her cub to the door and several feet out into the enclosure. Now that he’s getting older, she will start to bring him on these “field trips” more frequently.
Oct. 19 | Weekend Field Trip
Although our 8-week-old cub does not nurse as frequently as he did when he was younger, we know from the weekly weigh-ins conducted by our keeper team that he is packing on the pounds. This—along with thick, wooly fur—enables our cub to regulate his own body temperature. He often sleeps on the floor of the den just beside Mei Xiang. From time to time, the pair will playfully nibble at one another.
We have observed Mei Xiang leave her cub in the den while she spends time in the large enclosure eating bamboo and drinking water. Last week, keepers also provided Mei Xiang with one of her favorite diet items—leaf eater biscuits—in a rubber tub. She decided to take her food "to go" and brought the tub into the den for a midnight snack.
Mei Xiang brings her cub out of their den for brief “field trips” to the large enclosure. Typically, she carries him out for just a few moments. Over the next few weeks, we expect these field trips to increase in frequency and duration. Meantime, our cub continues to practice crawling. Exercising his muscles and improving his coordination will help him scoot around in the coming weeks. Around three months old, we expect he will take his first steps.
Oct. 22 | Second Veterinary Exam
Yesterday, Oct. 21, marked two months since our giant panda cub’s birth. That meant it was time for one of our Zoo veterinarians, Dr. James Steeil, to return to the Panda House to pay him a visit, perform a quick health assessment and administer the cub’s first vaccine.
Dr. Steeil listened to the cub’s heart and lungs, examined his eyes and ears, and palpated his belly, which appeared to be full. When Dr. Steeil administered the canine distemper vaccine, the cub jumped at the initial prick of the needle, but settled down quickly.
Although our cub is not able to walk yet, he can push himself up using his forearms and position his hind legs underneath his hips. He has been crawling, and his coordination improves day by day. We expect in another month or so, he will take his first steps.
The cub was quite a wiggle worm while we were taking his measurements! Our plump panda is officially as round as he is long. From the tip of his nose to the base of his tail, he remained steady from last week’s measurement of 16.5 inches (42 centimeters). His abdominal girth measured 16.5 inches as well. He gained half-an-inch around his midsection—up from 15.9 inches Oct. 14. His weight increased from 5.4 pounds to 6.5 pounds.
Overall, our cub is making good gains and we are happy that his development is right on track. The exam was a quick one—only 8 minutes long—which was just enough time for mother Mei Xiang to pop outside and enjoy a fruitsicle in the sun.
Oct. 26 | 9 Weeks Old
If you’ve caught a glimpse of our cub on the Giant Panda Cam lately, you may have noticed that he likes to sleep on his back. It’s very cute to watch! When he is awake, he continues to practice crawling around the den. Over the weekend, Mei Xiang took him on several “field trips” into their larger enclosure, mostly at night.
Mei Xiang continues to be a devoted mother to her cub. Now that he is larger and can regulate his own body temperature, she feels comfortable leaving the den for longer periods to eat. Mei Xiang’s appetite has returned to normal; these days, she eats approximately 30 kilograms (66 pounds) of bamboo every day.
Mei Xiang has developed a schedule of sorts and leaves the den routinely once in the morning, once in the afternoon and several times overnight. Sometimes, she chooses to bring a few stalks of bamboo back to the den as a convenient snack for later.
Oct. 30 | A Quiet and Calm Cub
The afternoon of Oct. 28, giant panda mother Mei Xiang went outside to eat, per her new routine. The giant panda team took the opportunity to briefly weigh and measure our cub.
Throughout the exam, the cub was quiet and calm. From the tip of his nose to the base of his tail, he measured 18.9 inches long (48 centimeters). His abdominal girth measured 17 inches (43 centimeters)—he added half-an-inch around his midsection since his last exam Oct. 21. He also gained a full pound since last week and now tips the scales at 7.5 pounds (3.43 kilograms).
After we took his measurements, he promptly fell asleep on the soft towel atop the exam table.
Nov. 2 | Panda Pumpkins and Snack-O-Lanterns
On Saturday, our giant panda family got into the Halloween spirit, thanks to the talented team in our Department of Nutrition Sciences. They whipped up some not-so-spooky “snack-o-lantern” treats for male Tian Tian and female Mei Xiang made of shredded carrots, applesauce and diluted apple juice pressed into a pumpkin using a Jack-O-Lantern-shaped mold. Keepers presented our 10-week-old cub with a pumpkin as well. Many of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s animals receive pumpkins as a fun enrichment item on Halloween because it gives them something new to smell, touch and investigate.
As we mentioned in our Oct. 26 update, Mei Xiang’s appetite has returned to normal. Both she and Tian Tian receive about 70 pounds of bamboo throughout the day and evening. Overnight, she also receives leaf-eater biscuits, carrots, apples and cooked sweet potatoes.
Nov. 5 | Part I: 11 Weeks Old
Yesterday, giant panda mother Mei Xiang stepped outside to enjoy the beautiful autumn weather and soak up some sun. The panda team took that opportunity to quickly check her growing cub’s weight and measurements.
Throughout the exam, our cub was mostly quiet and sleepy. As keeper Marty Dearie measured the cub, he lifted up his head. He barked at the sound of our laughter, then promptly fell asleep. He weighed 8.4 pounds (3.84 kilograms)—nearly a pound more than last week. From the tip of his nose to the base of his tail, he measured 20.4 inches long (52 centimeters). His abdominal girth measured 18.5 inches, up from 17 inches last week. His tail, which was a quarter of his body length at birth, is 2.3 inches long (6 centimeters), or one-eighth his body length.
Nov. 5 | Part II: Field Trip
Tag along on a “field trip” with giant panda Mei Xiang and her cub as they explore the world outside their den.
This story was featured in the November 2020 issue of National Zoo News. 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 Giant Panda Conservation Fund. On behalf of the animals we care for and protect: thank you!