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: