- The Washington Times - Monday, November 23, 2020

He’s cute, he’s cuddly and at last he has a name — and, no, it isn’t Baby Yoda.

The National Zoo’s 3-month-old giant panda cub has been named Xiao Qi Ji (pronounced “SHEOW chee jee”), which is Mandarin Chinese for “little miracle.”

His name was one of four that the public could vote on in an online poll last week. Per tradition, the cub was named 100 days after its birth, which was Aug. 21.

His name reflects the “extraordinary circumstances under which he was born” and the collaborative efforts to conserve the giant panda species, the zoo said.

“This new panda, our miracle cub, has already brought all of us so much joy in this truly unique time, and he will be a source of our memories for years to come,” said Steve Monfort, director of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. “We are grateful that those who share in our joy have helped us pick the perfect name for our panda cub.”

The public cast about 135,000 votes over five days last week to select a name.

At a checkup last week, the cub weighed in at 10.4 pounds. He measures 22 inches long from the tip of his nose to the base of his tail.

For weeks, Xiao Qi Ji has been trying to crawl and walk, efforts that are “progressing nicely,” the zoo said.

The cub can manage to get three legs underneath himself momentarily when he tries to stand and should be walking soon. Once he starts walking, he’ll soon try to climb up on the rock landscapes in his habitat, but might not be tall enough to reach some of the plateaus.

Panda mom Mei Xiang (pronounced “may SHONG”) became the oldest giant panda in the U.S. to have a successful pregnancy, at age 22. There are about a dozen giant pandas in the United States, all of them on loan from the Chinese government.

“The birth of Xiao Qi Ji is a true miracle that is so uplifting to all of us during the pandemic,” said Cui Tiankai, Chinese ambassador to the U.S. “Both our American friends and people back in China are caring about him. We watch him on webcams and get excited about his teething, practice of crawling and every step of his life.

“So on this special day, I wish Xiao Qi Ji a life of health and happiness, a life full of blessings and miracles,” Mr. Cui said in a video posted Monday by the zoo.

Reproductive scientists and zoo veterinarians had artificially inseminated Mei Xiang on March 22 with frozen semen from Tian Tian (pronounced “tee-YEN tee-YEN”), a 23-year-old giant panda. Ultrasounds on Aug. 14 and 17 confirmed the presence of a fetus.

The zoo says it is hard to tell at this age if the cub will be more like his father or his mother. It is also too early to determine whether his eye patches, back saddle or knee socks will resemble his dad’s or his mom’s.

Cubs typically start nibbling on solid foods around 6 months old, although Mei Xiang’s milk will remain the foundation of her son’s diet until he is about 18 months old. Male giant pandas usually weigh about 250 pounds when fully grown and reach sexual maturity between 4 and 8 years old.

The birth of Xiao Qi Ji marks the first time a U.S. zoo has had a successful pregnancy via artificial insemination using only frozen semen.

Mei Xiang previously gave birth to three other surviving offspring: Tai Shan (pronounced “tie SHON”) in July 2005, Bao Bao (pronounced “BOW BOW”) in August 2013, and Bei Bei (pronounced “BAY BAY”) in August 2015.

All of the cubs were moved to China at 4 years old as part of a cooperative breeding agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association, which expires in December. The zoo is currently in talks with its colleagues in China about a future arrangement.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Zoo is temporarily closed to the public. The panda house at the zoo has been closed for months to allow for peace and quiet for Mei Xiang and her cub.

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