Guest blogger: Kristina Meek, Wild Encounters
Happy International Red Panda Day! It’s virtually impossible not to smile when you watch this fuzzy Asian mammal frolic. It’s no surprise that two years ago a video of our red pandas playing in the snow went viral and made international news.
Of course, there’s a lot more to red pandas than just being cute. Like so many animals, they face daunting, often human-made threats to their existence. 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.
The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is proud to help save red pandas through research and breeding as well as through support of Red Panda Network, the conservation organization behind International Red Panda Day.
“While Red Panda Network’s primary focus is on conservation efforts in native red panda habitat in Nepal, zoos in other parts of the world are some of our most important allies in the fight to save this wonderful animal. Deforestation and poaching now sadly mean that home is not safe for these animals, and keeping a population in a managed habitat monitored and protected by people has become necessary for some of them. These captive populations allow researchers and keepers to observe the animals’ behavior. The more we know about how these animals act, the better we can develop effective conservation strategies.” – Red Panda Network
Scientists at the Zoo’s Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) have devoted years to studying red panda reproduction. They’ve produced data that support the theory that red pandas can display “pseudo-pregnancy,” or a false reading based on hormone levels previously used to diagnose pregnancy.
Over the past few years, our researchers have successfully diagnosed red panda pregnancies using trans-abdominal ultrasound. Although the procedure requires animal training and comes with a high price tag, it has proven more accurate than hormone tests. In 2015, we bred the first red panda cubs with birth dates accurately predicted using a combination of ultrasonography and hormone monitoring.
Currently, we have a pair of cubs, Harriet and Hazel, born to mom, Lin, in June. At three months old, they are just starting to venture out on exhibit. Our red panda exhibit also houses two adult females, and soon we’ll receive two new males for future breeding. Stop by their exhibit and look for them; you might spot them in the trees. And go ahead, say it: “They’re soooo cute!”
Not in Cincinnati and want to know where you can go to see red pandas near you? Check out this worldwide search tool.