Note: Rusty has moved to SCBI Front Royal to increase his chances of breeding.
Red pandas have historically lived in the shadow of giant pandas, but they were actually the first of the two species to be discovered, and to be called "panda." In the past, red pandas have been classified with the bear family (which includes giant pandas) and with procyonids (a family that includes raccoons). Today, they are classified as the sole species in family Ailuridae.
Red pandas are engaging, bamboo-eating animals that resemble raccoons and share parts of their Asian habitats with giant pandas. Although not "giant," the red panda is an endangered species that also deserves scientific and conservation attention, as well as wider recognition among the public.
Red pandas have striking red coats and reddish-brown tear marks from the eyes to the corner of the mouth. They are especially vibrant during winter time: As their coats redden and thicken, they become easily visible on even the coldest January day.
Last December, Smithsonian Channel's Wild Inside series introduced 6-month-old red panda cubs Henry and Tink to the world. Born in summer 2014, the cubs were in critical condition and required round-the-clock care. Thanks to animal care staff, including keepers Jessica Kordell and Ken Lang, the cubs are healthy and thriving! In the latest keeper Q & A, they answer some burning questions about the cubs' progress and look ahead to their future.
Want red pandas to return to the National Zoo? Join fellow red panda fans and make a gift towards the Red Panda Retreat—a much needed facility for red pandas on Asia Trail. The temperature-controlled indoor retreat will be complete with branches for climbing and multi-level platforms for playing and sleeping. On behalf of the animals we care for: thank you!
Tink (L) and Henry (R) at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (Janice Sveda/Smithsonian's National Zoo)
Both cubs are full of personality! Henry is a fun-loving guy who looks for any opportunity to play, climb, and rough house. We've been hand-raising him practically since birth, so he is exuberant every time he sees us. Tink is also very friendly, but she's a bit more cautious when it comes to interacting with us. But she seems to enjoy having Henry as a companion.
Both Henry and Tink seem to enjoy playing with boomer balls. Of course, the most entertaining enrichment is the kind that they provide to each other (i.e. social interaction). They climb, run around, and wrestle a lot with each other.
Tink is a bit cautious around keepers, but enjoys playing with Henry. (Janice Sveda/Smithsonian's National Zoo)
The cubs are now fed twice a day (originally, we fed them every two hours!). Milk is no longer a part of their diet, and they're now eating solid foods like bamboo, apple biscuits, bananas, grapes, and other fruit daily.
In the coming months, we'll be watching for steady weight increases. That will tell us they are getting the right nutritional balance. We're happy to say that Henry now weighs 7.5 pounds and Tink weighs 6 pounds.
It’s a joy to see these cubs grow and thrive every day, especially considering they came to us in critical condition.
Henry investigates the snow in his enclosure. (Janice Sveda/Smithsonian's National Zoo)
All four red panda pairs at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Va., successfully bred and had cubs this year. Of the 10 cubs, more born at SCBI than any other year, seven have survived.
The latest pair to have cubs was Shama and Rusty, who are best known to the public. Rusty gained national attention in June 2013 after he escaped from his enclosure on Asia Trail at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. Shama, an experienced mother, gave birth to three cubs June 26. This is the first litter Rusty has sired. Keepers had been monitoring Shama closely the past few weeks since her behavior indicated she might be pregnant. Keepers are observing the cubs via a closed-circuit camera, and the cubs appear healthy.
Rusty and Shama’s three cubs join three other litters born within the past five weeks. Two cubs were born May 27 to female Yanhua and male Sherman. It was their first litter.
Two more cubs were born June 16 to female Regan and male Rocco. One cub was stillborn; the other is being hand-reared to increase chances of survival. The surviving cub is currently in critical condition and receiving round-the-clock care. Keepers took extra steps to prepare for the birth of Regan’s cubs. She has given birth before, but has neglected cubs in the past. As a result, keepers trained her to voluntarily participate in ultrasounds, and they moved her to the veterinary hospital before the birth and monitored her 24 hours a day when she began showing signs consistent with an impending birth. Regan is very genetically valuable to the red panda population in human care, and keepers took every precaution to increase the likelihood of a successful birth.
Two cubs were also born to female Low Mei and male Angus June 18; however, one died shortly after birth. Keepers and veterinarians are closely monitoring the surviving cub, and it appears to be healthy.
Including the births this year—more than 100 red pandas have been born at SCBI—60 have survived. The survival rate for red panda cubs living in facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is about 50 percent.
Red pandas typically give birth to litters of one to four cubs after a gestation period of about 134 days. Cubs stay in the nest for about 90 days and remain close to their mothers until the next mating season. They reach adult size at about 12 months. The species is listed as vulnerable primarily because of habitat loss. Red pandas live in the cool, temperate bamboo forests in parts of China, Nepal and northern Myanmar. There are fewer than 10,000 adult red pandas left in the wild.
Rusty came to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo as the result of a Species Survival Plan breeding recommendation. Shama had been living at the Zoo for several years. The pair was moved to SCBI Front Royal in January to encourage breeding. Shama had bred successfully at the Zoo before, but she is sensitive to noise during pregnancy. Because it was possible that increased visitor traffic to see the giant pandas may have compromised successful breeding, animal care staff determined the best chance for a successful pregnancy, birth, and raising cubs for Shama would be at the new red panda facility at SCBI.
Headquartered in Front Royal, Va., SCBI facilitates and promotes veterinary and reproductive research as well as conservation ecology programs based at Front Royal, the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and at field research stations and training sites worldwide. The National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute is a part of the Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest museum and research complex.
ed pandas Rusty and Shama have moved from the Smithsonian’s National Zoo to our Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Va. Rusty and Shama are paired as a result of a breeding recommendation based on the Species Survival Plan. Shama has bred successfully in the Zoo’s exhibit, but it’s possible the increased visitor traffic for giant panda Bao Bao could have compromised successful breeding for this pair. Out at SCBI, Rusty and Shama will get a little extra peace and quiet. Animal keepers report that Rusty and Shama are adjusting well to their new surroundings. Rusty immediately began to explore his new enclosure before munching down some bamboo grown onsite at SCBI.
We are working to bring in one to two non-breeding red pandas to the Zoo’s Asia Trail exhibit this spring. With the addition of Rusty and Shama, SCBI now has four breeding pairs of red pandas. Send them all some good vibes as we hope for healthy red panda cubs sometime in the summer. After a gestation of about 134 days, red pandas have litters of one to four cubs. They stay in the nest for about 90 days, remain close to their mother until the next mating season begins, and reach adult size at about 12 months.