By Jocelyn Chui
Northwest Asian Weekly
Staff members at the Woodland Park Zoo believe that a 3-year-old female red panda is ready to produce offspring in the next breeding season; the animal underwent a full physical examination in early August.
Dr. Darin Collins, director of animal health at the zoo, said the 3-year-old is part of the Species Survival Plans, a cooperative breeding program developed by the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums to help ensure the genetic diversity and demographic stability of endangered species.
“As a 3-year-old animal, she has an excellent body condition, and all of her body systems are within normal range of it,” Collins said.
Collins said the female panda arrived at the Woodland Park Zoo in 2008 from Canada. Currently weighing 27.3 pounds, the animal is a little heavier than she needs to be — 19.8 pounds. Therefore, she will be subjected to a weight-reduction program before the two-month breeding season of red pandas arrives in North America, in January and February.
“At this point in time, there is not anything more we can do to maintain her body condition other than continue to monitor her body weight and continue to access her behavioral perimeter with the male,” said Collins.
Red pandas are originally from cool temperate bamboo forests in the Himalayas, Myanmar, and the Sichuan and Yunnan provinces in China. Sharing the name of giant pandas but resembling raccoons, they eat bamboo leaves and small fruit. Their average lifespan is about 15 to 17 years. Though protected in some preserves, the population of red pandas is still declining due to human activities such as deforestation and increased agriculture and cattle grazing.
Gigi Allianic, public-relations manager at the zoo, said that fewer than 10,000 red pandas are believed to exist in the wild. Currently, there are 166 red pandas in North America. Woodland Park Zoo is the only zoo in the state with red pandas, with one male and two females living in the zoo’s temperate forest.
According to a zoo press release, since the other female red panda at Woodland Park Zoo has already passed her breeding years, the genes of the 3-year-old female and the 6-year-old male are particularly valuable to the population of red pandas in North America; none of the red pandas at the zoo have offspring.
Collins said that having a species like the red panda at the zoo can also provide the public with opportunities to meet some rare animals they will not be able to see otherwise.
“I’d like to think that people take a cultural interest when they come to the zoo,” Collins said. “[Having red pandas at the zoo] is an interesting way to represent wild species in China.” ♦
Jocelyn Chui can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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