National Zoo’s panda cub celebrates half-birthday with applesauce

Xiao Qi Ji plays in the grass at the zoo. He recently celebrated his 6-month birthday. (Courtesy Smithsonian National Zoo)

Panda cub
The National Zoo’s panda cub enjoys his first helping of applesauce for his 6-month birthday. (Courtesy Smithsonian National Zoo)

The panda cub takes in the view from his climbing structure. (Courtesy Smithsonian National Zoo)

Giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji enjoys a tree in his yard. (Courtesy Smithsonian National Zoo)

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Panda cub

The Smithsonian National Zoo’s panda cub is trying new foods as he rings in his half-birthday.

The newest delicacy? Homemade applesauce.

Staff at the zoo placed a dollop on top of one of Xiao Qi Ji’s enrichment toys and after a few sniffs, he lapped it up last Sunday, his half-birthday, although not as fast as cooked sweet potato.

“His reaction to the applesauce was much more tepid,” assistant curator of giant pandas Laurie Thompson wrote in an update. “It seemed as if he wasn’t sure if he liked it.”

Xiao Qi Ji weighed 27.5 pounds at his recent weigh-in. That’s 2.7 pounds heavier than his last weigh-in on Feb. 10.

In another adventure for Xiao Qi Ji, the zoo used sweet potato to introduce him to a new small rubber tub toy. They smeared sweet potato inside of the tub and he surprised himself when he put his paws on the edge of the tub and flipped it up.

“Eventually, he climbed inside and sat for a few moments before he dragged it back to the den, where he played with it some more,” Thompson said in her post.

The zoo said that Xiao Qi Ji ventured further into the outdoor habitat than he did during his first outing last week. For the most part, he explored the habitat on his own.

“His mother Mei Xiang accompanied Xiao Qi Ji on a few of his many ‘laps’ around the yard but did not stick by his side. Instead, she opted to eat bamboo and checked on him from time to time,” Thompson said.

His favorite thing is climbing on the log structures and the new hammock in his habitat.

But he had a little bit of trouble getting down.

“When he reached the top of the climbing structure, it took him a while to figure out how to get down. Mei Xiang helped him down to the ground once,” Thompson said.

He learned from then on though and is now making the journey himself.

“Apart from that instance, Xiao Qi Ji climbed down all by himself. Occasionally he took a tumble, but panda cubs are robust and have dense, wooly fur to cushion their landings,” Thompson wrote.

With much of his attention focused on the climbing structure, keepers said that Xiao Qi Ji has not attempted to climb the trees in the yard yet. But, they expect that he will make that happen very soon.

The zoo says that the best way to watch Xiao Qi Ji is between 7:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. on the Giant Panda Cam.

Valerie Bonk

Valerie Bonk started working at WTOP in 2016 and has lived in Howard County, Maryland, her entire life. She's thrilled to be a reporter for WTOP telling stories on air. She works as both a television and radio reporter in the Maryland and D.C. areas. 

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