A Red Panda cub born June 9 at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo made her media debut this week and was proclaimed “feisty, chubby, and squirmy” by her keepers.
Now 30 days old, the female cub passed a critical milestone. “About half of all Red Panda cubs die within 30 days after birth,” says Animal Curator Mark Weldon. “We are obviously pleased that our cub has made it this far.” The cub has not yet been named.
Though the cub has survived the first 30 days, she still faces other hurdles. “Weaning is a critical time for Red Panda cubs as they make the transition from mother’s milk to solid food,” explained Zoo Keeper Helena Lacey. Weaning occurs when the cub is five to six months old.
Five-year-old mother Xiao and her cub spend nearly all of their time in an air-conditioned nest box within the Red Panda exhibit, where Xiao nurses, grooms, and sleeps next to her cub. This is natural behavior for Red Pandas, which nest in hollow trees in the wild. Cubs typically remain in the nest box for about three months.
Zoo keepers monitor the duo via a remote camera mounted in the nest box. “They sleep most of the time, but we also see Xiao grooming herself and the cub,” said Lacey. Xiao leaves the nest box several times a day to eat and climb in the exhibit while her cub remains in the nest box.
Three to four times a week, zoo keepers distract Xiao with a tasty bamboo branch and quickly weigh the cub. So far, the cub is gaining weight and has more than tripled her birth weight of 139 grams to 454 grams (about one pound). Twice a week, the veterinary staff performs a brief exam on the cub, checking for any abnormalities.
The cub’s eyes are now open. The baby squirms and squeals during her weigh-ins and checkups – signs of a strong and alert cub. At this time, the zoo staff sees no need to intervene by hand-rearing the cub or offering supplemental feedings, though protocols are in place should the need arise.
The breeding of Red Pandas is overseen by the Species Survival Plan (SSP), a program of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA). The goal of the SSP is to maximize genetic diversity in zoo-dwelling populations of endangered and threatened animals.
Red Pandas are native to the forested foothills of the Himalaya Mountains in China and Nepal, where they feed primarily on bamboo. Though they share a name with the famed black-and-white giant pandas, the two are not closely related. The name “panda” comes from the Nepalese word ponya, which means “bamboo-eater.” They are listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.