Christmas Day came early for New Zealand’s Wellington Zoo with the birth of a rare Red Panda cub on the 17th December. The proud first-time parents, Khusi and Sundar, are doing well so far, with both bonding strongly with the cub.
This birth is exceptionally special due to the odds of a successful Red Panda conception being extremely low, given the small window of opportunity for pregnancy. In fact there is only one day a year when female Red Pandas are in season.
The cub is not yet on show to visitors as it is currently spending its first few months inside a nest box with its mother, Khusi. It is paramount that the mother and cub are left to their own devices in the first few months to allow the two to bond, so zoo staff are staying hands-off at the moment, keeping an eye on progress with daily checks to ensure the cub’s survival.
Wellington Zoo has been working as part of the international conservation breeding programme for Red Pandas. The conservation status of these exceptional animals was modified in 2015 by the IUCN from vulnerable to endangered due to the rapidly declining numbers in the wild. Working with the Red Panda Network in Nepal, the Wellington Zoo conservation fund is helping to contribute to their Forest Guardian Programme which employs local people who organise awareness building workshops within their villages and schools to promote habitat protection.
The cub’s arrival was an astounding surprise for staff due to the difficulty of knowing for sure if female Red Pandas are pregnant. The birth has been an excellent achievement for Wellington Zoo, since the last Red Panda cub born at the zoo was on Christmas Eve in 2009.
Visitors can expect to see the new Red Panda in early spring, but in the meantime you can see the zoo’s male Red Pandas, Sundar and Manasa. As keepers gain more access to the Red Panda as the cub grows, they will soon be able to determine its gender. The name of the new arrival will then be chosen by Wellington Zoo’s conservation partners at the Red Panda network to help find an appropriate Nepalese name for this sensational animal.