News & Politics

7 Most Adorable Panda Moments at the National Zoo

From snow days to bubble baths, get ready to say "awww."

Tian Tian rolls in the snow, 2009. Photograph courtesy of Smithsonian's National Zoo.

The National Zoo’s giant pandas will leave for China by November 15, marking the end of an adorable era. We’ve celebrated milestones and watched countless hours of the Giant Panda Cam, falling in love with Mei Xiang, Tian Tian, and Xiao Qi Ji along the way. As these fuzzy giants prepare for their departure, let’s take a look back at some of the cutest moments from their time in Washington.


Xiao Qi Ji does gymnastics

Born in August 2020, Xiao Qi Ji provided residents with a sliver of positivity during the height of the pandemic. (More than 630,000 people tuned in for the livestream of his birth.) Many of his antics have been captured on the Giant Panda Cam, but one of our favorite moments is when the fuzzy bear showed off his gymnastics skills, kicking those chunky legs in the air for a wobbly handstand. Xiao Qi Ji’s form isn’t perfect, but we still think he earned a perfect 10.


Tian Tian takes a bubble bath

Even pandas get a spa day from time to time. To promote playful energy and relaxation during mating season, the zoo provided the pandas with a bubble bath. In this clip from 2016, Tian Tian backed into the tiny tub, washing his ears with two giant paws. After soaking his thick fur, the bear splashed and shook his tail like a really, really big dog.


Mei Xiang and Xiao Qi Ji enjoy snack time

This mother-son duo love to munch on sugarcane. When this video was taken in November 2022, two-year-old Xiao Qi Ji was beginning to spend less time with his mother, as cubs naturally do in the wild. However, this particular day he opted to share a meal with his momma bear. The pair posted up on the grass with their stocky legs kicked out, and at some point, one of the pandas wrapped their arm around the other in what appears to be a literal bear hug.


Pandas play in the snow

Pandas love to play in the snow, and DC’s wintery days have yielded some particularly silly moments over the years. We’ve watched Tian Tian coat himself in powder while making a snow angel, and Xiao Qi Ji seems to share his father’s enthusiasm for winter weather, performing a somersault in the snow. (Seriously, can we get this panda into a gymnastics class?) And of course, there’s the time Mei Xiang and Tian Tian turned the panda enclosure into a snowy slide, gliding around on their backs.


Xiao Qi Ji tries bamboo for the first time

At around five months old, the curious cub began sampling solid foods, starting with sweet potato. He had his first taste of bamboo—a milestone moment in the life of a giant panda—when he tried some of Mei Xiang’s leftover leaves. Peering out from behind a rock, he gripped the shoots with pudgy paws, stuffing his face with the same energy as a kid eating cake at a birthday party.


Tian Tian gets artsy for a gender reveal

Baby pandas don’t fully develop anatomically until they are a few months old, so Xiao Qi Ji’s caretakers had to send off a DNA sample to determine his gender after the bear’s first vet appointment. For the big announcement, panda papa Tian Tian entered his Blue Period, creating an abstract painting to announce the birth of his son. We only get a brief glimpse of Tian Tian the Artiste, but even a small sighting of his massive paw gripping that small paint brush is enough for us.


Xiao Qi Ji shows his sassy side to Mei Xiang

Parents may find themselves relating to this clip, showing an interaction between Mei Xiang and eight-week-old Xiao Qi Ji. Following a snuggly mid-afternoon nap with her baby, the elder panda reached for a bamboo snack. Lying underneath the shoots and leaves, her sleeping cub doesn’t seem to mind at firstd. However, it appears he eventually has something to say about the blatant disregard for nap time, letting out a ferocious bark that commences an all-out honking battle. Who knew such a little bear could produce such a loud noise?


Bonus moment: Panda fans say goodbye

In September, the zoo hosted Panda Palooza, a going-away party for the trio. As part of the program, the zoo asked visitors to share their favorite panda moments, plus stories of how this family of bears touched their lives over the years. Hundreds of responses and photos poured in, and we think that’s pretty cute, too. You can read some of them here.

One more adorable photo of Xiao Qi Ji for good measure. Photography courtesy of Smithsonian’s National Zoo.

Brooke Spach
Editorial Fellow