A Red Panda cub is making a remarkable recovery at Taronga Zoo with the help of a surrogate mum and a cuddly soft toy.
Taronga keeper, Tamara Gillies is providing round-the-clock care to the two-month-old cub, after it sustained a neck injury while being carried in its mother’s mouth.
The female cub, who keepers have named “Maiya”, is now thriving thanks to daily veterinary care and regular bottle feeds from Tamara.
“She’s definitely a little survivor,” said Tamara. “She’s guzzling down her milk formula, she’s gaining weight every day and the wound on her neck has almost completely healed.”
The cub has also found a fluffy new friend in the form of a soft toy Red Panda, which she clings to while feeding and sleeping.
“The soft toy gives her something with a familiar scent to snuggle and play with. It’s the same colour as a real Red Panda and she clings to it using her claws and teeth as she would do with her mum,” said Tamara.
Maiya, whose name means “little girl” in Nepali, was born at Taronga on 20 November to first-time parents Amala and Pabu. The cub spent her first five weeks in mother Amala’s care before keepers made the difficult decision to intervene.
“It was a hard choice as we’d always prefer for a cub to be raised by its mother. Amala was doing an amazing job for a first-time mum. She was very attentive and we observed all the right suckling and grooming behaviours, but unfortunately the injury to the cub’s neck required urgent veterinary care,” said Tamara.
Tamara said it’s not uncommon for Red Panda cubs to experience neck wounds as mothers often carry their young by the scruff of the neck.
Maiya will remain in Tamara’s constant care for at least another month, but keepers are already taking steps to gradually reintroduce the cub to her parents. Tamara feeds Maiya in Taronga’s Red Panda exhibit each morning to allow the parents to see and smell the cub.
“We’re confident that we can reintegrate Maiya with her parents in the coming months. We’re very lucky that she had her first five weeks with mum and received the important colostrum in her mother’s milk,” said Tamara.
“It’s good for her to be comfortable around us, but we want her to maintain the natural behaviours of a Red Panda and hopefully grow up to raise cubs of her own.”
Classed as endangered, Red Pandas are under threat from habitat loss, illegal trade and poaching throughout their natural range in Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar and Nepal. Fewer than 10,000 Red Pandas are thought to remain in the wild.
People can support Taronga's conservation efforts by adopting a Red Panda: https://taronga.org.au/adopt-an-animal