Belfast Zoo is celebrating the birth of endangered twin Red Panda cubs! The pair was born to parents, Chris and Vixen. Chris arrived at Belfast Zoo, from Beekse Bergen Safari Park in the Netherlands, in 2013. As part of a collaborative breeding programme, he was joined by Vixen (who arrived from Dresden Zoo in April 2017). The pair hit it off straight away and after a gestation period of approximately 135 days, Vixen gave birth to two healthy female cubs on 19 June 2018.
Zoo curator, Julie Mansell, said, “Red Panda cubs are born blind and develop quite slowly. They therefore spend the first few months in the den. It is for this reason that, despite being born back in June, the twins have only recently started to venture outside. Over the last few weeks the twins have become more adventurous and visitors will hopefully get the chance to spot our colourful little arrivals as they start exploring their habitat!”
Red Pandas are also known as ‘lesser’ panda or ‘firefox’. It is believed that their name comes from the Nepalese term for the species ‘nigalya ponya’ which translates as ‘bamboo footed’ and refers to their bamboo diet. It was originally thought that this species was related to the raccoon family or even the other bamboo eater, the Giant Panda. They have since been classified as a unique species in their own family, called Ailuridae. Red Panda spend most of their time in the trees. Their sharp claws make them agile climbers and they use their long, striped tails for balance.
Zoo manager, Alyn Cairns, said, “Red Panda are native to the Himalayas in Bhutan, Southern China, Pakistan, India, Laos, Nepal and Burma. However, Red Panda numbers are declining dramatically due to habitat loss and illegal hunting for their fur, in particular their long bushy tail, which is highly prized as a good luck charm for Chinese newlyweds. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature believes that the Red Panda is facing a very high risk of extinction and they are listed as the 20th most globally threatened species by the Edge of Existence Programme.”
Alyn continues “Our mission is to be a major force in conserving and safeguarding habitats and wildlife to make a significant contribution to their survival in the future. Our Red Pandas are part of a collaborative breeding programme to ensure a viable safety net population in captivity. The twins are therefore not only a cause for celebration for the Belfast Zoo team but for the species as a whole. One of our roles is also to create conservation links between captive populations of endangered species being managed ex situ and wild populations being managed in situ. We support a number of in situ conservation campaigns including the Red Panda Network. This organisation is committed to the conservation of wild Red Pandas and their habitat through the education and empowerment of local communities.”
You can also support the vital work that Belfast Zoo carries out by adopting a Red Panda. Find out more at www.belfastzoo.co.uk/adoption