Snow day! Giant panda cub face-plants into winter wonderland at National Zoo

The zoo is closed Tuesday due to the snow

WASHINGTON – Yes, giant pandas enjoy snow days just as much as you do.

Just take a look at 16-month-old Xiao Qi Ji at Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute in Washington, D.C.

On Monday, the panda cub plowed face-first into the winter wonderland and then rolled around in the fresh snow. Pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian also joined in the fun.

This comes after the first winter storm of 2022 dumped heavy snow across parts of the Appalachians and mid-Atlantic on Monday after dusting portions of the South with snow over the New Year's weekend. More than a foot of snow piled up in parts of Virginia, southern Maryland, southern Delaware and southern New Jersey.

The zoo is closed Tuesday due to the snow.

"Giant pandas seem to enjoy the snow and often tumble, slide and somersault," said Jen Zoon, a communications specialist at the Smithsonian's National Zoo. "Xiao Qi Ji’s mother, Mei Xiang, is infamous for her sledding skills. Yesterday, we saw Xiao Qi Ji take a different approach with his belly slide technique."

Giant pandas have thick, wooly fur that keeps them warm in the cold, Zoon said.

However, this wasn’t the first sight of snowfall for young Xiao Qi Ji. On Jan. 31, 2021, he experienced his first sight of frozen precipitation. At the time, the 5-month-old took a cautious approach to the weather but eventually worked up the courage to take his first bite of snow. Zookeeper Stacey Tabellario even built him a panda-cub-sized snowman. Although his trip outside at the time was short, he seemed to have a good time.

Twelve months later, his belly-sliding skills are 10/10, the zoo said.

Zoon said the zoo's giant pandas have access to their outdoor habitats from about 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily, weather permitting. If it is particularly icy, the bears may remain inside for their safety.

They can choose to spend their time inside or outside as they wish; the only exception is when our animal care team is cleaning. For safety, staff do not share a space with the bears.

There are as few as 1,864 giant pandas living in their native habitat. Another 600 pandas live in zoos and breeding centers around the world.