Giant Panda Born At Nat’l Zoo Growing Up Fast


Smithsonian National Zoo/Bobbymartinez14

Xiao Qi Ji at 3.5 months old.

From a small, pink, hairless lump to a giant furball packing on pounds, Xiao Qi Ji, the panda cub at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington D.C., has grown a whole lot since its birth on August 21, 2020.

As the precious panda cub, Xiao Qi Ji (SHIAU-chi-ji) grows, he’s begun to explore the world outside the cozy den where he was born. His mother, Mei Xiang (may-SHONG), has started to bring him into her larger enclosure when she eats. The cub has also begun to walk, but he’s still very wobbly.

At the time of publication, Xiao Qi Ji weighed 9.2 pounds and is 21.2 inches long, and has started teething. The panda keepers check up on the cub regularly while Mei Xiang is outside eating, weighing, and measuring the cub and making sure it is healthy and growing.

The giant panda keepers are very dedicated to the pandas, waking up early every morning to check in on them to make sure they are happy and healthy. Their daily schedule consists of feeding the pandas, cleaning their enclosure, and even taking urine and feces for research.

Chief veterinarian Dr. Don Neiffer examines 3.5-month-old giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji. Image by Smithsonian National Zoo

At birth, panda cubs are pink, hairless, blind, and about the size of a stick of butter, weighing only 3 to 5 ounces, making them the smallest mammal newborn relative to its mother’s size except for marsupials. They are totally reliant on their mothers for food, warmth, and transportation. While the mothers devote all of their time to caring for their cub in the first few months, the father’s will usually never cross paths with the cub in the wild.

Xiao Qi Ji is Mei Xiang’s fourth surviving cub and her third male cub. Tai Shan was the first surviving cub born at the Smithsonian National Zoo in 2005, then came female Bao Bao in 2013 and male Bei Bei in 2015. The first pandas at the zoo Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing were brought to the zoo in 1972 after First Lady Patricia Nixon expressed her fondness for the species at a dinner in Beijing.

Sadly, Xiao Qi Ji will not be at the zoo for long. All cubs born from Mei Xiang and Tian Tian belong to the China Wolong Reserve, and they will be shipped there at around four years of age. Though everyone will be disappointed to see the cub go, he will be treated nicely at the Wolong Reserve, where pandas can roam and play freely.

Xiao Qi Ji is not only a cute, cuddly panda; he’s also an icon for endangered species around the world. The worldwide giant panda population rose 17% from 2005 to 2015. This data shows that there is hope for animal conservation. The birth of Xiao Qi Ji means that we’re one step closer to restoring animal populations around the globe.

Xiao Qi Ji has brought joy to many people during these challenging times. His name means “little miracle” in English, and it is certainly true. Xiao Qi Ji will hopefully help bring awareness to giant pandas and other threatened species around the world.