Keepers at the Auckland Zoo say the birth of a rare Nepalese Red Panda baby in the early hours of December 24 was the best Christmas present they could have received. It is the first to be born at the zoo since 2002, weighing in at just 105 grams (equal to a medium sized tomato). Now, at four weeks old, the little one is estimated to have grown to 240 grams, a little over half a pound.
The cub, the first offspring of three-year-old mom Bo and 12-year-old dad Sagar, is an extremely valuable addition to the international breeding program for this species. The IUCN Red List classifies this animal as Vulnerable. It is threatened by illegal hunting and deforestation. Remaining populations are fast becoming fragmented and isolated from each other. It is uncertain how many remain in the wild today, but estimates suggest it may be as low 2500 individuals. There are close to 500 individuals in zoos worldwide.
“This birth is a fantastic result, especially as Bo was only introduced to Sagar last August, given that female Red Pandas come into season just twice a year and a male has only a one to two-day window to mate a female,” said Carnivore Team Leader Bruce Murdock. “We couldn’t ask for a better mum in Bo. She’s doing an exceptional job, staying in the nest box for long periods and feeding her cub up to six times a day, and being very attentive.”
Photo Credit: Auckland Zoo
Dad has been to the nest box to check out his offspring, but leaves the parenting to Bo. Murdock added, “We’re keeping a regular watch on this cub, but taking a very hands-off approach so Bo can continue to do the great job she’s been doing.”
Murdock says Red Pandas develop slowly and are dependent for at least three months, so it could be another eight to 10 weeks before visitors see the cub venturing out and around the enclosure with Bo. A full vet check will be done in late February, and at that time its gender will be confirmed.
All that nursing and growing causes cub-naps, as seen in the video below:
Read more about Red Panda conservation after the fold:
Endemic to the temperate forests of the Himalayas, the Red Panda ranges from Nepal in the west to China in the east and is also found in northern India, Bhutan and northern Myanmar.
The Auckland Zoo Conservation Fund supports the Red Panda Network in Nepal, which is working to save the Red Panda in the wild and preserve its habitat through education and empowering local communities. If you want to learn more, visit www.redpandanetwork.org.
As part of the international breeding program, Auckland Zoo sent female Red Panda Khosuva to India’s Darjeeling Zoo in 2010, where she has been paired up with a breeding male as part of Project Red Panda. The plan is for Khosuva’s offspring to be released into the wild in Nepal. In return, Sagar arrived at Auckland Zoo in 2010 from Darjeeling Zoo to breed.
Chris Hibbard, Executive Director of the Australasian Zoo Aquarium Association (ZAA), and Species Coordinator for Red Pandas said, "The birth is a landmark event and an important part of the global breeding efforts facilitated by the World Association of Zoos. Thanks to Auckland’s initiative with Darjeeling Zoo and this successful breeding with a very genetically valuable male, internationally we’re able to build on our efforts to preserve a genetically representative insurance population.”