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Healthy, Happy Giant Panda Cub Xiaoqi Ready to Welcome Visitors From Across the U.S.

Jun. 03, 2021

WASHINGTON - Giant panda cub Little Seven, born at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., now 9 months old and in good health, made his first public appearance Thursday and will soon welcome in-person visits from avid fans from across the country as the zoo reopens in phases.

The bear cub, whose name translates to "little miracle" in English, stepped out of his room for an hour-long media preview with his mom, Mei Xiang, and dad, Tian Tian, at about 7:30 a.m. ET.

Giant panda cub Little Seven

9-month-old male giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji climbs in a tree at the Smithsonian National Zoon on May 19, 2021 in Washington, DC. [Photo/Agencies]

While his parents eased in with grace and quickly found their seats to enjoy the early morning bamboo, little Seven ran adorably towards a tree with his head and butt shaking and lingered on a branch until he eventually fell asleep there.

The pandemic forced the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute to close for most of the year beginning last March, but panda lovers have become familiar with little Seven since he officially debuted on a live webcam in January.

"They weighed him yesterday and he's 45 pounds," said Brian Amaral, the zoo's senior curator of mammals, in an interview with Xinhua News Agency, "Little Seven." So obviously he's much bigger than when he was born. I think people will be surprised when they go see him in person ....... It's also a little bit unfortunate that people aren't here to see some of this development in person, but he's doing well."

Amaral is not at all concerned about any potential psychological impact on the famous panda family due to the lack of visitors during the pandemic.

On the one hand, he said, it is a normal phenomenon for captive animals to have fewer visitors to the zoo during the winter. On the other hand, because of the zoo's phased, slow reopening approach, "I don't suspect there will be any negative impact on the animals," Amaral said.

Steve Monfort, the zoo's director, said that from all the parameters closely monitored by the caregivers, little Seven is "growing into a normal, healthy and happy cub.

As the young Seventh Son adjusted to a comfortable position in the tree, Monfort told Xinhua that the pandas obviously love seeing visitors and presumably "know that people love them," but that they were very well cared for during the pandemic, which helped them stay out of potentially harsh conditions.

Giant panda cub Little Seven

9-month-old male giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji climbs in a tree at the Smithsonian National Zoon on May 19, 2021 in Washington, DC. [Photo/Agencies]

"When visitors are not here, our animal care staff is very attentive to their needs, providing them with lots of stimulation in their environment, special food, and lots of enrichment activities," he said, adding that as a result, the pandas are doing "very well" mentally and physically and that they "would be happy to see people back."

On Friday, the zoo will reopen at 20 percent of its full capacity, admitting 5,000 to 6,000 visitors a day. That means the world is still full of wonders for him, and Xiao Qizhi no longer has to wait too long to see visitors for the first time.

Today is probably the most people he's ever seen in his life," Amaral said, adding that in the near future, the bear may one day recognize the world as a different place. However, "in general, animals are very adaptable and I think they will do well," he said.

On the visitor side, those wishing to see pandas must obtain a separate, free timed pass for each person in their party, known as a Road to Asia/Panda Pass.

"You will need to wear a mask to see the pandas," Monfort said." We have to have a certain number of people come each day because the pandas spend a lot of time indoors in the air conditioning and space, which requires us to have a limit on the number of visitors."

For those Chinese visitors who plan a trip to the zoo specifically to see the pandas, Monfort has something special to say.

"We love pandas. It's something we share with every Chinese citizen, I'm sure," he said." So we welcome you to come and see our pandas. I've seen your pandas and your breeding facilities in China. So we welcome you. And really, we have something in common, and that is we love pandas and we want to save them."

The National Zoo received its first pair of pandas, known as China's "national treasures," in 1972, a gift from Beijing following then-President Richard Nixon's ice-breaking trip to China. Since then, the zoo has worked with Chinese professionals to study and conserve the species, and a great partnership and friendship has developed.

"We are very proud of our long history of working with our Chinese colleagues for nearly 50 years," Monfort said. He said that no matter how the political relationship between Washington and Beijing evolves, as a conservationist he has been and will always be focused on saving the giant panda, which he emphasized is a "great species" that is distinguished from others and "ensures they are in nature."

Speaking of the partnership between the two countries dedicated to panda care and research, Monfort said the U.S. side is committed to making the relationship, which is already stronger than ever, even more successful in the coming decades.

"I think it's one of the most special and productive partnerships we've ever been involved in. And I consider many of my colleagues in China to be not only colleagues, but friends," he said.

Once listed as endangered, the giant panda is now listed as vulnerable as a result of efforts by China and its international partners to restore and protect its habitat.

For Monfort, the cooperation between the United States and China on giant panda conservation is "a great symbol of how effective partnerships can work and how we can work together and make a difference on something that is really bigger than ourselves."

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