'Little Miracle' panda cub makes public debut as National Zoo reopens

Fans haven't been able to see Xiao Qi Ji outside since he was born last August.

May 21, 2021, 2:50 PM

His name means "Little Miracle."

Xiao Qi Ji, the Smithsonian National Zoo's newest giant panda cub, made his public debut Friday after being born last August to his mother, Mei ­Xiang, who was considered too old, at age 22, to get pregnant.

PHOTO: Panda cub Xiao Qi Ji hangs out in a tree on the reopening morning of Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, D.C., May 21, 2021.
Panda cub Xiao Qi Ji hangs out in a tree on the reopening morning of Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, D.C., May 21, 2021.
Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Up to now, because of the coronavirus pandemic, fans have only been able to catch a glimpse of the cub playing and snoozing on the zoo's panda cam -- but with the zoo reopening Friday for the first time since last November -- they now can watch him perform outside, likely climbing, rolling around and munching on panda-favorite bamboo.

PHOTO: Panda enthusiasts point their cameras into the trees in an attempt to photograph panda cub Xiao Qi Ji on reopening day of Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, D.C., May 21, 2021.
Panda enthusiasts point their cameras into the trees in an attempt to photograph panda cub Xiao Qi Ji on reopening day of Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, D.C., May 21, 2021.
Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

The cub (his Mandarin name is pronounced SHIAU-chi-ji) weighs about 45 pounds, zookeepers say, a long ways from the tiny, squealing "stick of butter," as cubs are called at birth.

PHOTO: Now that Xiao Qi Ji is more mobile, the panda team weighs the cub in a tub. He weighed in at 18.4 pounds (8.39 kilograms) as of Jan. 6, 2021.
Now that Xiao Qi Ji is more mobile, the panda team weighs the cub in a tub. He weighed in at 18.4 pounds (8.39 kilograms) as of Jan. 6, 2021.
Courtesy National Zoo

Zoo spokesperson Pamela Baker-Masson said she met visitors Friday from North Carolina and others from Pittsburgh who trekked just to see the giant pandas, in addition to their regulars.

"The panda cub is definitely a star attraction, but overall, the sense that I have from our visitors is that they’re just happy to be able to return to the Zoo, enjoy the time outdoors with their families and see all the animals," Baker-Masson said in a statement to ABC News, noting the zoo's reopening appropriately falls on Endangered Species Day.

"We’ve opened with many safety precautions in place, but it certainly feels like we’re returning to our new normal," she said.

The public got to pick Xiao Qi Ji's name back in November and, as part of a cooperative agreement with China to breed the "vulnerable" species in their native land, he will be returned there when he's 4 years old to join his three siblings: Bei Bei, Bao Bao and Tai Shan.

PHOTO: From nose to tail tip, the 5-week-old giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji measured 13.9 inches (its tail accounted for two of those inches), Sept. 25, 2020, at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.
From nose to tail tip, the 5-week-old giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji measured 13.9 inches (its tail accounted for two of those inches), Sept. 25, 2020, at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.
Courtesy National Zoo
PHOTO: Nine-month-old male giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji climbs in a tree at the Smithsonian National Zoon on May 19, 2021, in Washington, D.C.
Nine-month-old male giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji climbs in a tree at the Smithsonian National Zoon on May 19, 2021, in Washington, D.C. The Smithsonian National Zoo will reopen to the public starting on May 21st after being closed since Nov. 2020 due to the pandemic.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Until then, to the delight of tens of thousands of tourists, he'll be the zoo's star attraction, and the focus of possibly a million impossibly cute photos.

Maybe even more.

PHOTO:Giant Panda Xiao Qi Ji, left, celebrates his 9-month birthday with his mother Mei Xiang, 22 years of age, as visitors make their return to the Smithsonian National Zoo on May 21, 2021 in Washington.
Giant Panda Xiao Qi Ji, left, celebrates his 9-month birthday with his mother Mei Xiang, 22 years of age, as visitors make their return to the Smithsonian National Zoo on May 21, 2021 in Washington.
Jack Gruber-USA TODAY Network

ABC News' Tom Dunlavey contributed to this report.

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