Co-written by Shasta Bray and Crissi Lanier
What is this frosty-faced beauty of ringed tail and rust-colored fur? A raccoon? A bear? Actually, the red panda is neither of these and is indeed a PANDA! It is its own species unrelated to the others. This beautiful auburn-colored mammal is native to Central Asia and is designed for a life in the trees. Pandas are expert climbers with sharp claws and hair on the bottom of their feet that keeps them from slipping. They are great jumpers, too, able to jump up to five feet in one leap.
Currently, the Zoo is home to six red pandas – three males named Homer, Rover and Toby and three females named LiWu, Bailey and Lin. Lin, daughter of Bailey and Toby, is the youngest and recently celebrated her first birthday on June 16th, which she shares with Rover who turned nine years old.
We breed our pandas in accordance with the Red Panda Species Survival Plan (SSP) managed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The SSP keeps a studbook of all the red pandas in North American zoos, determines which animals should be mated, and develops long-term research and management strategies for the species. Our very own Zoo Registrar, Mary Noell, is the Program Leader for the studbook.
The red panda exhibit is just beyond the Children’s Zoo entrance in the center of the Zoo. Two yards sit side-by-side so make sure to look on both sides, especially high up in the trees where they spend much of their time hanging out. Red pandas tend to be more active at dawn and dusk, and at the Zoo, during the 2:15pm Red Panda Animal Encounter when they get yummy treats like apples and other fruits. In the wild, they eat mostly young tender bamboo shoots and leaves, as well as some grasses, roots and fruits.
Want to meet our pandas up close and personal? Sign up for an Endangered Excursion where you’ll get to watch our talented red pandas create a one-of-a-kind canvas painting for you to take home and enjoy. That’s right, our pandas are painters! And you can purchase these unique masterpieces in the Zoo gift shop as well. Here’s a sneak peek of LiWu painting.
Red pandas are classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, which means they face a high risk of extinction in the wild. Proceeds from the Endangered Excursions and the sales of red panda paintings support the Red Panda Network’s efforts to protect red pandas and their bamboo forests in the wild through the education and empowerment of local communities. The Red Panda Network’s immediate goal is the creation of Panchthar-Ilam-Taplejung Red Panda Protected Forest, located in Eastern Nepal, which will be the world’s first protected area dedicated to red panda.
Next time you’re at the Zoo, be sure to stop by and visit our fuzzy faces!