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.
Why is breeding red pandas at SCBI important?
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.
When were the cubs born?
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.
Why are you hand-rearing some of the cubs?
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.
How are the parent-reared cubs doing? How do you monitor their condition?
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.
How are the keeper-reared cubs doing?
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.