Babies just don’t get much cuter than the newest arrivals born at Lee Richardson Zoo. Ember, the zoo’s female red panda, gave birth to two male cubs on July 19th. And although they won’t be ready to leave the nest box for their public debut for another 8-10 weeks, the first time mother is doing a wonderful job of caring for these two balls of adorable red fluff. Red panda cubs weigh less than two grams at birth, open their eyes at 17-18 days, and begin to eat solid food between 4- 4 ½ months.
Even the adults are irresistibly cute, with their teddy bear face, house cat-sized body covered in long, thick rust-red fur, and a bushy, ringed raccoon-like tail. Superb climbers, they can descend trees head first like a squirrel thanks to a special rotating ankle joint.
In the wild, red pandas are solitary and are found from Nepal to Burma, and into Central China. They are listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN, primarily as a result of destruction of their habitat for human development. In zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), this species is managed by a Species Survival Plan (SSP) in order to maintain a genetically diverse population. Ember, who arrived at the zoo in 2011, was introduced this past winter to her new mate Hammy, a spunky two year old male who arrived in 2012. With careful planning and skilled attention from the keeper staff, the two hit it off and produced a litter of two cubs. Sadly, Hammy passed away unexpectedly shortly after the birth of the cubs from a congenital heart defect. He had shown no signs of his ailment prior to his death. Zoo staff was able to take some comfort from the fact that he left his legacy through the two cubs.
Although the panda cubs will not be on display for up to two months, when Ember is inclined to leave them alone, she will be given access to her yard, and may occasionally take a break from cub care and venture outside. Zoo guests can also visit Firecracker, our 22 year old male who currently holds the longevity record for red pandas in the SSP. The previous record was 19 years and four months. Firecracker, who turned 22 on July 3rd, takes his time getting around, and has given up climbing trees, but enjoys strolling around his exhibit, napping in his outdoor nest box, and relaxing in his air conditioned den. Both panda exhibits are located inside Wild Asia. Until the little ones venture out, zoo staff will share baby pictures as they become available.