How do you measure a year of giant panda cub cuteness? Giant panda Xiao Qi Ji — the Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s “little miracle” — gives all who follow his #PandaStory a reason to smile. Look back at his sweet snuggles, playful pounces and adorable adventures as we recap our favorite cub videos of 2021!
Before we begin our countdown . . .
January 2022 | Happy New Year
New year, new Xiao Qi Ji! Back in January 2021, our giant panda cub was a little wary during his first encounter with snow. On Jan. 3, 2022, the 16-month-old plowed face-first into the fresh powder, rolled around and relished the year’s first snow day. His belly-sliding skills are 10/10!
One year ago . . .
January 2021 | Livestream with Xiao Qi Ji
On Jan. 27, the giant panda team hosted their first-ever virtual encounter with Xiao Qi Ji. His newest enrichment toy—a bright green ball with a small handle—made an appearance in the broadcast. Since it was made from a softer material than the adults’ toys, it was perfect for him to chew on and sink his claws into. It was also scented like green apple, providing some olfactory enrichment, too. During the livestream, this ball was at the center of a friendly game of tug-of-war between Xiao Qi Ji and keeper Marty Dearie. For his small stature, Xiao Qi Ji was remarkably strong!
February 2021 | Venturing Where the Sidewalk Ends
Much like his siblings Tai Shan, Bao Bao and Bei Bei were during their first outings, Xiao Qi Ji was cautious yet curious when he explored the outdoor habitat for the first time Feb. 16. He walked along the wall of the panda house, sniffed the doors and gates and took in all the new sights and smells. Xiao Qi Ji peeked into the “howdy” window that looks into his father Tian Tian’s yard. He also tested out his climbing skills on the mesh that separates the keeper area from the bears’ yard, but he didn’t get far before he lost his grip and dropped just a few inches to the ground below. Even though Xiao Qi Ji stayed close to “home base,” his first outing was successful!
March 2021 | Exploring New Sites
At 6 months old, Xiao Qi Ji’s confidence in exploring more of his outdoor habitat grew. On March 12, Mei Xiang took him on a tour of the moat—the area filled with greenery at the front of their habitat. That excursion seemed to boost Xiao Qi Ji’s confidence! Following that adventure, he started exploring other areas of the yard daily—even on his own. On March 18, he thoroughly investigated the climbing structure beneath the hammock. Xiao Qi Ji also figured out how to use the logs as a pathway and followed them to the top of the grotto.
April 2021 | Climbing to New Heights
Xiao Qi Ji put his climbing skills to the test in April. This once cautious cub became much more confident in his abilities to maneuver around the outdoor habitat. Keepers were surprised when mother Mei Xiang channeled her inner cub and joined Xiao Qi Ji for a climb on his favorite play structure. He seemed excited to play with her and showed off some of the climbing, hanging and tumbling skills that he has worked to perfect over the past two months. They also went for a fun roll down the hill!
May 2021 | Xiao Qi Ji Greets His Fans
Whenever our animal care team introduces a young animal to visitors for the first time, they try to do so gradually. That way, they 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.
June 2021 | A Quick Learner
At 10 months old, Xiao Qi Ji was starting to get the hang of target training! Keepers presented him with a target—a ball on the end of a dowel—and he instinctively sniffed to investigate. Whenever he touched his nose to the target, he received his favorite food, cooked sweet potato, as a reward. Participation in training is completely voluntary, but Xiao Qi Ji seemed to enjoy interacting with keepers.
July 2021 | Personality That Shines
At 11 months old, Xiao Qi Ji’s personality was very evident! He often ran around the habitat with a bounce to his step. Xiao Qi Ji anything and everything into a fun toy—from enrichment items, to pieces of bamboo, to sticks that he found outside. He spent a lot of his time figuring out how enrichment items work. One day, he leaned back and held a puzzle feeder toy above his head—the same way Mei Xiang does! It was already empty as Mei Xiang had eaten the biscuits inside (they were hers, after all), but it seemed like he tried his mom’s technique to see if there were any crumbs left.
August 2021 | Happy First Birthday, Xiao Qi Ji
Aug. 21 was a big day for our “little miracle.” Giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji celebrated his first birthday and shared not one but two delicious fruitsicle cakes with his mother, Mei Xiang. Mei Xiang was the first to step outside at 7:30 a.m. and made a b-line for the sweet treat. She opted to eat the bamboo stalks that sprouted from the cake first. When Xiao Qi Ji trotted over to his mother, he reached for the decorative fruit and veggie slices that adorned the cake. Once those had all been consumed, he grabbed the giant heart made of frozen-diluted apple juice and rolled around in the greenery. The giant panda team received many well wishes from Xiao Qi Ji’s fans. Even China’s new Ambassador to the United States, Qin Gang, reflected on our precious panda’s special day and our shared goal to conserve the species.
September 2021 | A Splashing Good Time
Giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji may have found a new favorite pastime. While keepers were hosing down the outdoor patio Sept. 16, our curious cub came over to supervise — and jumped right in the spray! Just like his father, Tian Tian, and mother, Mei Xiang, Xiao Qi Ji seems to enjoy playing in water, though each bear has his or her own unique style. The way Xiao Qi Ji interacts with the hose spray is similar to the way his older brother, Bei Bei, used to play. However, licking the spray — as he did Sept. 16 — is a trait that is unique to Xiao Qi Ji!
October 2021 | A Bubble Bath Wrestling Match
While the giant panda team was cleaning the bears’ habitat, keepers gave Mei Xiang and Xiao Qi Ji some bubble bath solution—one of Mei Xiang’s favorite scents. When giant pandas enjoy a particular scent, they rub it all over themselves, a behavior called scent-anointing. It turned into a wrestling match with both pandas covered in the bubble bath, and the fur on their ears became spiky from the solution. It was great to see Xiao Qi Ji enjoy the scent in the same manner as his mother and with his mother!
November 2021 | Winter Comes Early
“Winter” came a little early to the David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat this year, care of the Zoo’s Department of Nutrition Science. They provided the giant panda team with a pallet of ice for all three pandas to play in. Like his parents, Xiao Qi Ji seems to be a big fan of the cold stuff. He had a blast conquering the ice “mountain” and even did some sledding!
December 2021 | Pool Playtime
On Dec. 17, Xiao Qi Ji took his first dip in deeper water. At only 12 inches high, the water level was high enough for him to try a “panda paddle” yet low enough that he could easily touch the bottom. He straddled the driftwood logs—a bit like a makeshift raft—and repeatedly tried to sink one of his favorite enrichment toys. At times, he sat on the ledge of the pool, rubbed water on his ears and playfully nipped at the fur on his belly, which had gathered in prominent peaks. He seemed to really enjoy playing in the pool and afterwards was so excited that he ran outside and climbed a couple of trees!This story appears in the January 2022 issue of National Zoo News. Looking for more adorable animal antics? Don’t miss 10 Animal Videos That Topped Our List in 2021.