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Animal of the Week – Red Panda

Wellington Zoo is home to four Red Pandas: Khusi and her cub Ngima, Sundar and Manasa. They all have distinct personalities which Zoo visitors can use to tell them apart!

Cooler weather makes for the best days to go and see the Red Pandas at Wellington Zoo. They become much more active, and will often be seen moving from tree to tree in the late afternoon.

Manasa is the “old soul” of the group. If you see one of the Red Pandas sleeping whilst the other three are up and about, it is very likely that Manasa will be the one napping. He is a very gentle animal who is almost never in a rush to do anything.

Sundar is more sociable – perhaps driven by his sweet tooth, which keeps him alert for the fruits proffered by his keepers to bring the Red Pandas down from their trees for Close Encounter time.

Finally, there is Khusi and her cub, Ngima. Ngima was born on the 17th of December 2017 which makes him just over one-year-old. Don’t miss the chance to go and see him – a young Red Panda is surely one of the cutest animals known to science!

Ngima enjoying his 1st birthday cake. Photo: Wellington Zoo

Ngima is becoming a very confident and curious Panda. You’ll often spot him following his Keepers around as they clean his habitat, sometimes even coming down to say hello. He is eager to participate in the husbandry training offered by his Keepers. This training is a positive interaction between the animals and their Keepers as it allows them to do regular health checks on the animals without needing to visit The Nest Te Kōhanga, the Zoo’s Vet Hospital.

The result of Wellington Zoo’s husbandry training – a very comfortable young Red Panda taking it easy. Photo: Wellington Zoo

Ngima’s enthusiasm for the training makes him a great hope for the continued success of Wellington Zoo’s participation in the international Red Panda breeding program. The fact that Wellington Zoo is successfully breeding Red Pandas is made even more impressive by the fact that Red Pandas are only in season one day a year! The international Red Panda breeding program is crucial to the survival of the species, with fewer than 10,000 individuals living in the wild. This already low wild population continues to dwindle due to habitat loss and poaching.

In the wild Red Pandas are native to the Eastern Himalayas and Southwestern China. Often people think that they are closely related to the Giant Panda but actually Red Pandas are more closely related to animals like weasels, skunks or raccoons than the animal which shares their name. Red Pandas are the only living members of the Ailuridae family while Giant Pandas are members of the Ursidae (Bear) family.

The current Red Panda range. Image: Wikimedia Commons

The reason both Giant Pandas and Red Pandas ended up both being called “Pandas” whilst being so distantly related is that they both consume copious quantities of bamboo in the wild. The origin of the name “Panda” is the Nepalese phrase “Nigalya ponya” which means “eater of bamboo”. In the case of Red Pandas this name is very apt. A wild Red Panda can consume up to 200,000 bamboo leaves a day to get the calories they need! This can be as much as 45% of their bodyweight in bamboo a day. The Chinese name for the Red Panda is “hunho”, meaning “fire-fox”. Some of our readers might be familiar with the internet browser Firefox, the logo of which features a stylised Red Panda and which took its name from the translation of the Chinese word.

The first written record of a Red Panda occurs in a 13th Century Chinese scroll, which depicts an interaction between hunters and a Red Panda. Red Pandas became known to Western science 6 Centuries later when Major General Thomas Hardwicke presented an article describing them to the Linnean Society in London. Interestingly, the Red Panda was discovered by Western science 48 years before the Giant Panda.

To help protect Red Pandas in the wild you can purchase Forest Stewardship Council certified wood and paper products, like toilet paper and books to help protect the habitats of wild Red Pandas. These products come from responsible sources, which means they are environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial, and economically viable.

Another way to support Red Pandas in the wild is to book a Close Encounter with them at the Zoo. This experience is definitely Instagram-worthy! 10% of the proceeds from these encounters go toward the Wellington Zoo Conservation fund. The Wellington Zoo Conservation Fund supports the Red Panda Network, who are leading the charge to save wild Red Pandas, protect their habitats, and empower local communities within the Red Pandas wild range through education initiatives.

At the Red Panda Close Encounter, you sit down with a bowl of their favourite fruits and , the Red Pandas are more than happy to clamber over you to grab some grapes or pears. You’re also joined by a Zoo Keeper who works with the animals you are meeting. They will introduce you to the animals and answer any of your questions about them, and about Red Pandas in the wild.

Click here to book your Close Encounter at Wellington Zoo!

– The Wellington App / Wellington Zoo