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The season's first winter storm — which brought significant snowfall to the Washington, DC, area on January 3, 2022 — could not have come at a better time for the residents of the Smithsonian's National Zoo. With the park closed to visitors due to the inclement weather, the animals were able to welcome the New Year with several snow days all to themselves.
The resident sloth bears, Niko and Deemak, took advantage of the soft white powder to practice their wrestling skills. The bison, kept warm by their thick coats, enjoyed the freezing but beautiful scenery while chewing hay. Even the elephant briefly ventured out to experience the icy weather.
However, it was giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji who seemed to enjoy the winter wonderland the most. In the footage captured by zoo officials, the adorable 16-month-old is seen performing somersaults in the snow, before sliding headfirst down a small hill. He then joins his mom, Mei Xiang, for a playful romp in the snow.
Xiao Qi Ji, which translates to "little miracle" is Mei Xiang and Tian Tian's fourth surviving cub. The adult giant pandas, who have been at the National Zoo since 2000, are on loan from the Chinese government. They were scheduled to return to China in 2020. However, National Zoo was able to obtain a three-year extension for their stay.
In December 2023, Mei Xiang, Tian Tian, and Xiao Qi Ji will all leave for the Wolong National Nature Reserve in China's Sichuan Province. The 500,000-acre-wildlife preserve and research facility is home to over 150 giant pandas, as well as other endangered animals such as snow leopards, golden monkeys, red pandas, and white-lipped deer.
Resources: Smithsonianmag.com, National Zoo.