Taronga Zoo has celebrated another conservation breeding success with the arrival of the 44th Red Panda cub in the Zoo’s breeding program.
The young male, ‘Pemba’ which means ‘Saturday’ in Nepalese was born on Saturday, November 29, last year to Taronga’s female ‘Wanmei’ and resident breeding male ‘Mayhem’. It has just started to venture out of its warm nest box to explore the lush outdoor exhibit.
The Red Pandas at Taronga Zoo are part of an international breeding program for this endangered species, and 44 cubs, including ‘Pemba’, have been born at the Zoo since the program started in 1977.
Taronga has the best breeding record in the southern hemisphere for Red Pandas and coordinates the Australasian Stud Book, making recommendations as to which individuals can be paired for mating to increase genetic diversity and introduce new bloodlines into the insurance populations for this captivating species.
Carnivore Keeper, Megan Lewis, said: “It is always a wonderful achievement when an endangered species is born at Taronga Zoo, especially when they are as adorable and charismatic a baby Red Panda.”
“The colossal effect of urbanisation and land clearance for agriculture and timber production means Zoo breeding of these animals is vitally important to provide an insurance population against a complete collapse in the wild,” said Megan.
At 12 weeks of age, ‘Pemba’ is quite a hefty, healthy little Red Panda tipping the scales at 1.6 kilograms. At this age, he is much larger than his brothers ‘Jishnu’ and ‘Tenzin’ were at their birth in 2007. ‘Jishnu’ has since gone on to partake in a breeding program at another Australian zoo.
“Throughout Wanmei’s pregnancy we thought that she was carrying two cubs as she was so large, but it was just one very big male!”
“Pemba’s favourite food is grapes which he sometimes takes right from our fingertips, a testament to the level of trust and the strong bond we have developed with him and his protective mother,” said Megan.
Despite this, like most Red Pandas, Pemba is quite cautious of everything around him, so as he gets used to life outside the nest box, Zoo visitors will need to take the time to spot him in the dense undergrowth or high in the treetops.
With ‘Pemba’ getting bigger everyday, he will soon start eating a wide range of new foods. The Red Pandas at Taronga Zoo eat a huge variety of fresh fruit and vegetables including apple, pear, melon, kiwi fruit and sweet potato. Fresh browse and leaves such as bamboo will also make up a large part of his diet.
Taronga’s Red Panda program has previously included a regional education program in Nepal teaching locals about the devastating effects on Red Pandas of harvesting forests for firewood.
Red Pandas, which range across the Himalayan mountains and foothills of northern India, China, Nepal, India and Bhutan, are listed as endangered. It is uncertain how many remain in the wild today, but estimates suggest it may be as low 2500 individuals. They are threatened by illegal hunting and deforestation. Remaining populations are fast becoming fragmented and isolated from each other.