DC’s giant panda cub a ‘quick learner’; begins husbandry training

The National Zoo’s panda cub is hard at work undergoing husbandry training and his trainers said he’s getting good grades.

“At this point, he is starting to get the hang of target training! We present him with a target — a ball on the end of a dowel — and he instinctively sniffs to investigate,” giant pandas keepers Mariel Lally and Nicole MacCorkle wrote in an update.

Giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji touches his nose to the target, held by assistant curator of giant pandas Laurie Thompson. (Courtesy Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute)

They said that when he touches his nose to the target, he receives a reward, which is usually, his favorite food: Cooked sweet potato.

The 10-month-old cub does his training usually in the mornings, after his mom Mei Ziang moves outside. Training began a few weeks ago.

“Our cub tends to sleep in, but if we ask him to follow the target for a treat, he will shift outside on his own,” the zookeepers wrote in their update.

One of his biggest accomplishments recently is standing up.

Giant panda Mei Xiang and her son Xiao Qi Ji stand up in a chute that connects the bears’ indoor and outdoor habitats. The cub recently learned how to stand. (Courtesy Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute)

“To give the cue, keeper Mariel holds her hand in front of his face and points her index finger up to the sky, then slowly raises it. Xiao Qi Ji follows her finger and stands up on his hind legs,” the post said. “Like his parents, Xiao Qi Ji is a quick learner. He mastered this behavior on his second try!”

The zookeepers said that the training helps in building trust between the cub and zookeepers.

“We are enabling him to voluntarily participate in his own future healthcare. The ‘stand up’ behavior, for example, gives keepers and vets an up-close view of his torso, front legs and hind legs that we would not see if he was farther away in his habitat,” the zookeepers said in their update.

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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