Updated June 7, 2013:
A red panda born at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo on Monday, June 3, has died.
“Our staff is truly saddened by this news,” said Animal Curator Mark Weldon.
The male cub was born to female red panda Xiao (pronounced JOW), age 3, and her 4-year-old mate, Junjie.
“Our daily visual checks did not reveal any problems with the cub,” Weldon said. The cub was seen curled up in the nest box, which is normal behavior. The cub was scheduled for a full physical exam today.
This was the second litter of cubs to be born at the zoo since 1997. Two cubs were born to Xiao in 2012, but neither cub survived. About half of red panda cubs born in zoos die within the first month of life. In 2012, 30 red panda cubs were born in North American zoos. Fifteen of those cubs survived.
A necropsy conducted by the zoo’s veterinary staff revealed that the cub had not ingested any milk. This could mean that the cub did not nurse, or that Xiao did not produce any milk.
“Raising animals in zoos is not an exact science,” said Weldon. “Our preference is always for animals to raise their own young, rather than hand-rearing them. Mother-raised babies always become better parents when they have their own young. It’s a fine line to know when to intervene.”
Mary Noell of the Cincinnati Zoo serves as North American Regional Studbook Keeper for red pandas and maintains data on all red pandas in United States and Canadian zoos. “This is not an unusual situation,” she said of the cub’s death. “Xiao is still a very young panda.” In general, young mothers are less successful in rearing young.
“There is a genetic line within this subspecies where [the females] do not produce enough milk,” Noell said. “Unfortunately we don’t know this is a possibility until a cub dies.”
Noell said that Xiao’s future as a breeding red panda will be evaluated. Recommendations for breeding and transferring animals among zoos are made annually. Both Noell and Weldon noted that either Xiao or Junjie could be moved to another zoo to find a new mate in the future.
Zoos continually share information on best practices and advances in husbandry for red pandas and all animals. A new air-conditioned nest box was installed in the red panda exhibit this spring. It includes a side window that allowed keepers to peek into the box once a day and view the cub. “We tried to disturb mom and the cub as little as possible,” Weldon said. The zoo pathway leading to the exhibit was closed off when Xiao began nesting on Monday.
Below is the original post, announcing the cub’s arrival.
Zoo keepers were counting the days until Xiao’s due date, but they were prepared when the red panda delivered a single cub on June 3, a few days earlier than expected.
This is the second litter of cubs to be born at the zoo since 1997. Two cubs were born to Xiao and her mate Junjie in 2012, but neither cub survived.
“The next few weeks are critical to the cub’s survival,” said Central Zoo Area Manager Shelley Scherer. “Xiao is behaving just as we would expect, so we are cautiously optimistic.”
An endangered species, red pandas are difficult to breed and rear in captivity. About half of all cubs die within 30 days of birth. Only a few dozen red panda cubs are born in United States zoos each year.
Keepers conducted a brief health check on the cub this morning. The cub, whose gender is not known, weighed 117 grams and was vocalizing. Xiao frequently carries her cub among nest boxes in the exhibit, which is normal behavior.
Keepers will keep a close eye on the cub, but prefer not to intervene in its care unless the cub is in danger. “It’s always best to allow a mother to rear her babies,” said Zoo Animal Curator Mark Weldon.
To give Xiao and her cub complete privacy, the exhibit pathway is closed to guests.
Red panda cubs are born blind and deaf. The mother spends nearly all her time nursing and grooming her cubs during the first week. The cubs remain in the nest until they are about three months old.
“If the cub survives, zoo guests are unlikely to see it outside of the nest box until sometime in August or September,” said Scherer.
The breeding of red pandas is overseen by the Species Survival Plan (SSP), a program of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA). The goal of the SSP is to maximize genetic diversity in captive populations of endangered animals.
Red pandas are native to the forested foothills of the Himalaya Mountains in China and Nepal, where they feed primarily on bamboo. Though they 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.”
Click on the photos below to enlarge.