Hello, Goodbye: Red Panda Update

Big changes are happening at the red panda exhibit.  We’re saying goodbye to two old friends, hello to a new one, and maybe preparing for a new arrival.

Zoo fans got to know Maliha the red panda cub in 2014.  Maliha was born to mother Xiao and father Junji on June 9.  A team of zoo keepers and veterinarian staff monitored the little cub closely for the first few months, while the path to her exhibit remained closed in an effort to minimize disturbances.  Near the end of the 2014 season, Maliha did venture out into her exhibit and zoo guests had a chance to meet her before we closed in October.

Zoo staff is happy to report that Maliha is still thriving and that the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo has received a new breeding recommendation for Xiao!

The breeding of red pandas is overseen by the Species Survival Plan (SSP), a program of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums.  The goal of the SSP is to maximize genetic diversity in zoo-dwelling populations of endangered and threatened animals.

What does all of this mean for the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo?  First, it means that a new male red panda has come to Fort Wayne.  His name is Mars and he’s currently getting acquainted with his new mate, Xiao.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

Second, male red panda Junji has been called to relocate to Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden in Evansville.  There is a breeding recommendation in place for Junji and his new mate, Celeste.

Finally, the SSP has recommended relocation for Maliha, which will likely occur in early April, 2015.  Maliha’s new home will be Potter Park Zoo in Lansing Michigan. Red pandas reach sexual maturity at approximately 1 year, 7 months of age, which means Maliha will not be ready to breed until 2016.

In the meantime, Maliha will continue living at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo with her mom Xiao and new friend Mars.  Mars met both females on February 3 and the introductions have gone smoothly.

With all going according to plan, can zoo fans expect panda babies in 2015?  Probably not, but it’s not out of the question.  Area manager Shelly Scherer explains, “Red panda breeding season is January through February.  We are not too optimistic that we will have cubs this summer; however since their breeding season does run until the end of February, there still is a chance.”

Red pandas are native to the forested foothills of the Himalaya Mountains in China and Nepal, where they feed primarily on bamboo.  They are classified as “Vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Though red pandas 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.”

Zoo babies are sponsored by Lutheran Children’s Hospital.  Click on the photos to enlarge:

Credit to zoo keeper Helena Lacey for Mars photo.