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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.

Panda Cub’s Baby Book

Maliha the red panda is 14 weeks old now and spends a lot of time outside of her nest, but it wasn’t long ago that zoo guests wondered if they’d ever get a look at the adorable cub.  As expected, it took about three months for Maliha to venture outside on her own and begin exploring her surroundings (video and photos below).

 

International Red Panda Day is this Saturday, and Zoo staff put together a Baby Book to commemorate the endangered cub’s first three months of life.   Zoo babies are sponsored by Lutheran Children’s Hospital.

Click on the photos to enlarge:

baby red panda cub fort wayne

Red Panda Cub Gets a Name

She’s strong and she’s beautiful, and now the zoo’s six-week-old red panda cub has a name to match.  Zoo keepers have bestowed the name “Maliha” on the little female cub – a name that means “strong and beautiful” in a Nepalese language.

Zoo Keeper Helena Lacey, who works with the red pandas daily, chose the cub’s name to reflect her wild heritage – red pandas are native to Nepal and China – and to fit the cub’s personality.  “I also wanted her name to reflect the whole journey we’ve been on with our red pandas for the last three years,” she said.  “Plus, she is a very strong cub, and beautiful too!”

Maliha still spends all her time in an air-conditioned nest box with her mother, five-year-old Xiao, but is gradually becoming more active, Lacey says. “Maliha rolls around, plays with her feet, and stays awake more,” she says.  “She tries to walk, but her feet still slide out from under her.”

Red panda cubs typically remain in the nest box for about three months. This means that zoo guests have little chance of seeing the cub until late August or early September.  Zoo keepers monitor Xiao and Maliha via a remote camera mounted in the nest box. This video shows Maliha as she discovers her paws:

Though Maliha is thriving, she still faces other hurdles. “Weaning is a critical time for red panda cubs as they make the transition from mother’s milk to solid food,” explained Lacey.  Weaning occurs when the cub is five to six months old.

The path to the red panda exhibit remains closed to zoo guests in an effort to minimize disturbances for the new family.  Guests can sometimes see Junjie, the cub’s father, lounging on branches in the exhibit.

Maliha is weighed regularly to ensure that she is receiving appropriate maternal care.  She has more than quadrupled her birth weight of 139 grams and now weighs 545 grams (about 1.25 pounds).

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 zoo-dwelling populations of endangered and threatened animals.

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:

baby red panda Fort Wayne Children's Zoo

First Peek at Baby Red Panda

We’re happy to announce that our 30-day-old female red panda cub, born on June 9, has passed a critical milestone and is doing well.  These photos give you a peek at the little cub, who remains behind the scenes in the nest box with her mother.

“About half of all red panda cubs die within 30 days after birth,” says Animal Curator Mark Weldon.  “We are obviously pleased that our cub has made it this far.” 

This is the third litter of cubs to be born to female Xiao, age 5, and her 6-year-old mate, Junjie.  Two cubs were born to Xiao in 2012, and a single cub was born in 2013; none of these cubs survived longer than two weeks.  Red pandas are an endangered species.

“We remain cautiously optimistic about the cub,” said Shelley Scherer, who supervises the Central Zoo and Australian Adventure.  “This cub was born healthy and had an above average birth weight.  Xiao is also a more experienced mother, which has certainly been a factor.”

“This cub is feisty, squirmy, and chubby,” said Zoo Keeper Helena Lacey, who works with the red pandas daily. 

Though the cub has survived the first 30 days, she still faces other hurdles. “Weaning is a critical time for red panda cubs as they make the transition from mother’s milk to solid food,” explained Lacey.  Weaning occurs when the cub is five to six months old.

Zoo keepers monitor the duo via a remote camera mounted in the nest box.  “They sleep most of the time, but we also see Xiao grooming herself and the cub,” said Lacey.  Xiao leaves the nest box several times a day to eat climb in the exhibit. 

Xiao and her cub spend nearly all of their time tucked in a nest box within the red panda exhibit, where Xiao nurses, grooms, and sleeps next to her cub.  This is natural behavior for red pandas, who nest in hollow trees in the wild.  Cubs typically remain in the nest box for about three months, which means zoo guests have little chance of seeing the cub until late August or early September.

Three to four times a week, zoo keepers distract Xiao with a tasty bamboo branch and quickly weigh the cub.  So far, the cub is gaining weight, and has more than tripled her birth weight of 139 grams to 454 grams (about one pound).  Twice a week, they perform a more thorough exam on the cub, checking for any abnormalities.

The cub’s eyes are now open, and she makes high-pitched squeals during her weigh-ins and checkups. 

The path to the red panda exhibit remains closed to zoo guests in an effort to minimize disturbances for the new family. 

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 zoo-dwelling 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.”

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

capuchin monkey and pumpkin

Pumpkin Playtime

Animals and pumpkins may seem like an unlikely pairing, but they are a big hit at the zoo.  With so many pumpkins here for the Wild Zoo Halloween, zoo keepers are grabbing gourds to use as enrichment with the animals.

Enrichment is the practice of introducing novel foods and objects to provide mental and physical stimulation for the animals.  

Pumpkins can be used as toys, food, or a container for treats.  The dingoes’ pumpkins were covered in papier-mâché to make them extra-challenging to open.  The red pandas got pumpkins stuffed with bamboo leaves and grapes, and the capuchin monkeys received jack-o-lanterns with treats inside.  The orangutans simply cracked open the pumpkins and ate the seeds!

Enjoy these photos of zoo critters with their pumpkins – click on the photos to enlarge.

 

red panda in log

Who’s the Cutest Zoo Animal?

There’s never been a Cutest Animal Contest at the zoo, but we’re pretty sure the red pandas would be strong contenders for the title.  In fact, “awwww” is the most frequently uttered word at the red panda exhibit! 

Male red panda Junjie, age 5, and his mate Xiao, age 4, have distinct personalities.  According to zoo keeper Sam Emberton, Junjie is the more cautious of the two.  “Junjie prefers to sit and watch before approaching us,” she says.  Xiao (pronounced JOW) is also shy, but she gets very interested when keepers arrive with food.  “She is very food-motivated, so she is willing to approach us,” Emberton says.

The red pandas are more than just cute critters – they are vulnerable to extinction in their native Himalayan home, which includes parts of China and Nepal.  That’s why we’re celebrating International Red Panda Day on Saturday, September 21 from 11 AM – 3 PM.

The red panda population has dwindled more than 40% in the last 50 years, according to some estimates.  Illegal hunting, loss of habitat, and competition with domestic livestock pose serious threats to the red pandas’ survival.  Only about 10,000 of these bamboo-eating animals remain in the wild. 

What is the zoo doing to protect this rare species?  By participating in the Red Panda Species Survival Plan, we help manage a genetically diverse zoo-based panda population.   (Although Xiao has produced two litters of cubs in 2012 and 2013, none of the cubs survived.)  By participating in events like International Red Panda Day, we can help spread the word about these fascinating creatures.

Click on the photos below to enlarge.

 

red panda in log

Red Panda Update

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
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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.”

Learn more about red pandas.

Click on the photos below to enlarge.

 

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