Story at a glance

  • A new giant panda was born on Aug. 21 at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C.
  • After a public online vote on a name last month, the three-month-old cub has been named Xiao Qi Ji, translating to “little miracle.”
  • Giant pandas remain vulnerable, according to the World Wildlife Foundation, but numbers are finally rebounding after years of decline.

This year’s Christmas miracle came a little early, in the form of a new baby giant panda born this August at the National Zoo. Now, the "healthy and strong cub" has a name: Xiao Qi Ji.

It means “little miracle.”

“Connecting people around the world with nature, whether in person or in this virtual setting, is a cornerstone of our mission to conserve and protect giant pandas for future generations,” said Steve Monfort, John and Adrienne Mars Director of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, in a release. “Like many who have followed our giant panda cub since his birth last summer, I tune into the Giant Panda Cam from time to time. Watching Xiao Qi Ji always puts a smile on my face. We are grateful that those who share in our joy have helped us pick the perfect name for our panda cub.”  


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And what a miracle indeed. The name was selected out of four Mandarin names put to a public vote online from Nov. 16 to Nov. 20 on the zoo’s website. Xiao Qi Ji was born on Aug. 21, just days after zoo veterinarians confirmed that Mei Xiang was pregnant. There is a 24- to 72-hour window each year that female giant pandas are able to become pregnant and the successful birth marks the first time a zoo in the United States has experienced a successful pregnancy and birth via artificial insemination using frozen semen (courtesy of giant panda Tian Tian).

"Giant pandas are an international symbol of endangered wildlife and hope, and Xiao Qi Ji’s birth offered the world a much-needed moment of joy amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. His name reflects the extraordinary circumstances under which he was born and celebrates the collaboration between colleagues who strive to conserve this species," said the National Zoo in a release.


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A month after Xiao Qi Ji was born, the International Union for Conservation of Nature announced that pandas were no longer "endangered" but "vulnerable." It wasn't the work of Mei Xiang and Tian Tian alone; the population has grown by nearly 17 percent over the past decade, according to the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF). Still, infrastructure development and forest loss remain the biggest threats to the species, whose habitat continues to shrink despite more than 50 panda reserves established by the Chinese government. 

“Everyone should celebrate this achievement. But pandas remain scattered and vulnerable, and much of their habitat is threatened by poorly planned infrastructure projects. Remember, there are still only 1,864 left in the wild," said Lo Sze Ping, CEO of WWF-China, in a statement


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Published on Nov 23, 2020