Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



Red Panda Updates

November 30, 2015

As the weather changes from sun to snow, the seven red panda cubs at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute are delighting in the cold! Hear from keeper Jessica Kordell as she dishes on the cubs' training progress, playtime activities and favorite toys in the latest Q & A.


All of our hand-raised cubs are doing well! Now that the weather is getting colder, they spend most of the day playing in their outdoor enclosures. We no longer need to feed them formula; they've graduated to fruits—like apples, bananas, grapes and pears. They also eat leaf-eater biscuits, which are made of compressed pulp and infused with nutrients. To make the biscuits easier to chew, we lightly soak them in water.

As for Nutmeg's cubs, we're really pleased with the progress they're making. They're getting the hand of the feeding routine, following Nutmeg around and eating everything she eats, including fruits, leaf-eater biscuits and bamboo.


We've named most (but not all) of the cubs. In the oldest hand-raised litter, we have one female named Lizzie, one male named Smitty, and another male who doesn't have a name yet. Our younger hand-raised litter is a pair of sisters, who received the names Tianeseng (meaning "moonlight") and Sengdaed (meaning "sunlight"). Of Nutmeg's litter, a male and a female, only the female has a name: Kate.


All of their personalities are different and unique! Lizzie is very independent; we often find her apart from her brothers and exploring the enclosure on her own. But, whenever she interacts with her keepers, she is very sweet and gentle. Her brothers play with one another a lot, though Smitty is a bit more dominant than his brother. Both have a good appetite and are very food motivated. Sengdaed is outgoing and seems to enjoy playing. On the other hand, her sister, Tianeseng, tends to be timid and a bit skittish.

Kate is very brave and feisty—she was the first to follow her mom at feeding time and take her fruit! Kate's brother is much more timid and tends to be very cautious when it comes to investigating new things.


At this age, they chase, tumble, and pounce on one another. It's adorable to watch, though they can really make a mess of their enclosure from all that playing! Aside from playing with each other, we give our red pandas (young and old alike) a variety of enrichment toys to help keep them physically and mentally active and to encourage them use their natural ability to climb.

We constructed a mini-tent out of fire hose and suspended it in the outdoor enclosure. Tianeseng and Sengdaed like to lounge in there and take in the scenery. Another favorite toy of theirs is an old apple barrel. We cut extra holes in the sides, and Lizzie, Smitty and their brother will enthusiastically pop in and out as they chase one another.

We're hoping to have more cubs this year, so we are in need of new toys. Visitors who are interested in helping us purchase toys for our red pandas can make a donation to our Enrichment Giving Tree. We (and the cubs) appreciate your support!


We have been training our hand-raised cubs to climb upon a scale and stand still. If they do the behavior asked of them, we rewarded them with fruit. So far, they've done pretty well! The older cubs weigh between 7 and 8 pounds, and the younger females weigh about 6 pounds.

About three weeks ago, we started putting the cubs' diets in crates rather than in their large enclosure. We want them to become comfortable with crates from a young age, so that if they need to be transported for a medical exam or, eventually, to move on to another Zoo, they will feel safe and not stressed.

Because Nutmeg's cubs were raised by their mom, we are starting from step one with them, which is fundamental trust-building training. To help them feel comfortable around us, we have been offering them fruit as a reward for approaching us. They're now taking food from the keepers regularly, and we've been able to get weights on these cubs, too. Kate weighs 6 pounds and her brother weighs 6.8 pounds.


This story appears in the December 2015 issue of National Zoo News.

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August 18, 2015

Read the article "Red Pandas are Adorable and in Trouble" from the New York Times

June 29, 2015

Seven red panda cubs were born at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute! Our animal care team is always hopeful that new moms will raise their own cubs, but that's not always possible. And when it isn't, keepers are ready to hand-raise cubs. Hear from keeper Jessica Kordell in the latest Q & A.

Click to view larger images


Here at SCBI, we have one of the largest breeding populations in human care within the North American Species Survival Program. Our team has extensive experience with both mother-reared and hand-reared cubs. So, we play an important role in the effort to save this vulnerable species.

Facilities like SCBI allow a more private environment for mothers to raise their young. This facility also gives keepers and researchers the flexibility to monitor and assist animals who may have health or behavioral issues that could interfere with birthing and raising cubs.


Three litters were born between May 31 and June 14! Leo Mei and Angus are the parents of the first litter, Nutmeg and Rocco are the parents of the second, and Regan and Blaze are parents of the third and final litter. Cubs from the first litter opened their eyes around June 18. None of the cubs have been named yet.


One mother, Leo Mei, had aggressive cancer which metastasized. Her condition declined rapidly. Unable to stop its spread, or improve her quality of life, our animal care staff (a team including veterinarians, biologists and keepers) made the difficult decision to humanely euthanize her after she gave birth.

Regan is a very genetically valuable red panda and important to the population in human care, but she has not been able to successfully rear cubs on her own. Before she gave birth, keepers made the decision to hand-rear her cubs to give them the greatest chance of survival.


Nutmeg is rearing her own cubs, and they appear to be doing well and growing. Newborn red panda cubs are very delicate and would normally stay in their nest with their mother until about four months old. We monitor the condition of mom and cubs using next box cameras. The cameras allow keepers to monitor the condition of the family. They also provide an opportunity for researchers to gather much-needed data on the animals’ behaviors. They were provided to us by Dr. Elizabeth Freeman of George Mason University.


All of the cubs are eating well and continue to grow. Initially, Leo Mei and Regan's cubs were fed seven times a day. Now, we are down to five feedings a day. Our hand-raised cubs are kept in climate-controlled incubators except when keepers feed them. Two of the cubs are currently receiving medication to treat pneumonia, but we are encouraged by their progress and weight gain.

At almost four weeks old, Leo Mei's cubs weigh between 330 and 360 grams. Regan's cubs are both about 140 grams at 11 days old. Nutmeg's nearly two-week-old cubs weigh between 190 and 220 grams.

January 26, 2015

Seven months ago today, three male red pandas—Clinger, Slash, and Shredder—were born to mother Shama and father Rusty at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. When Shama died a short time later from encephalitis, keepers stepped in and hand-raised her young. At the time, the cubs were just shy of two months old. Now, thanks to the efforts of animal care staff, they are growing and gaining independence! Meanwhile, dad Rusty is "doing great" according to keepers Jessica Kordell and Ken Lang. He'll stay a bachelor this year, since he did not receive a breeding recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Species Survival Plan.

Want red pandas to return to the National Zoo? Join fellow red panda fans and make a gift towards the Red Panda Retreat. The much-needed temperature-controlled facility 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!


Shredder is a bit smaller than his older brothers at 6 pounds, and his face is not as round. As he grows, he's looking more like them every day! Clinger and Slash look so similar that we've shaved a patch of fur in a different spot on each cub to help us tell them apart. Slash is about 7 pounds and Clinger is the largest at 7.5 pounds.


Shredder, being the smallest cub, tends to be very protective of his food! Either he'll scarf it down in seconds, or—if he's treated with banana—he'll stick it to the roof of his mouth and keep it there for a time. Clinger, on the other hand, tends to take charge, especially at feeding times. Slash is a bit more laid back and tends to follow his brothers around.


When the cubs were still with Shama, Shredder was out-competed for milk by his brothers. To compensate, we supplemented his feedings daily with formula. Initially, the cubs didn't want to be held or bottle-fed, so all three brothers drank from a bowl. It was a messy process at first. Then, they got a taste for formula, and mealtime became a smoother experience for cubs and keepers alike.


Recently, the cubs moved to a larger enclosure where the space is taller and wider and they have more room to climb and play. They're also learning day-to-day husbandry behaviors, such as transferring from one enclosure to another using the chute system. We're also in the process of training behaviors such as climbing onto a scale on cue.

Later this spring, all three boys will be transferred to Elmwood Park Zoo. They'll stay together in a bachelor group for about another year before they're paired with mates.

January 13, 2015

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)

July 2, 2014

Four Litters of Red Panda Cubs Born at SCBI: Red Pandas Shama and Rusty Parents to Three Cubs

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.

The Zoo will provide updates on the animals on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

January 30, 2014

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.