On June 17, two red panda cubs were born at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C. -- this on the heels of two previous cubs born in early June at the Zoo’s facility in Front Royal, VA., bringing their total to four red panda babies in 2011.
At the National Zoo, Shama, the female red panda, gave birth to two cubs in her den in their Asia Trail on June 17. Keepers suspected that she was caring for offspring when she did not respond to their call that morning. A slight squeal was the first indication of a cub! Zoo staff left the mother alone to bond with and care for the cubs within their den. On the seventh day keepers conducted a quick cub check and, with a one-minute window of opportunity, were able to confirm that two cubs were in the nest box.
Likewise, red panda Lao Mei at the Zoo’s Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal gave birth to a pair on June 5. Keepers have confirmed all four cubs are female and have opened their eyes.
Staff is taking precautions to not interfere with the cubs during this critical time. As the opportunity presents itself, they enter the den areas to weigh the cubs and assess their health. Keepers wear a second set of cloth gloves over their standard rubber gloves, which have been rubbed with nesting material and scented with the mother’s feces to cover human scents. All four newborns are steadily gaining weight and appear healthy.
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Red pandas are born annually and more than 100 surviving cubs have been born at both the Front Royal and Washington facilities since 1962.
The red panda exhibit is currently closed to visitors for the safety and well being of the mother and cubs. As the cubs grow stronger, the keepers and Friends of the National Zoo volunteers will watch for Shama to allow her cubs to venture out of the den in early fall. At that point, staff will evaluate when the exhibit can be reopened for public viewing. The red pandas in Front Royal have a brand new facility that includes nine outdoor enclosures equipped with numerous insulated dens.