Our first red pandas (four of them) came to the San Diego Zoo in 1940; 30 births were recorded between 1941 and 1954! We have maintained both subspecies over the years, although we’ve only had breeding success with the western red pandas, the most recent litter being born in 2006.
Currently, the Zoo’s Panda Trek exhibit is home to two western red pandas, Lily and Flynn. Lily has a whiter face and Flynn has more reddish flecks on the side of his face. They were both born in 2011, so are still young, but we hope this pair will bring us new little ones to admire. They can often be seen sleeping up high in the Chinese elm trees. Red pandas are very intelligent animals that enjoy training; some of our goals are to train Lily for ultrasound procedures so that we can confirm pregnancy as she begins breeding, which should start at the end of 2012. Lily and Flynn’s bedrooms are air conditioned to provide extra temperature control for the red pandas in the summer.
Red panda numbers may have decreased by as much as 40 percent over the last 50 years. Today the adult population is probably around 10,000 animals. People clearing forests for farming and grazing, as well as hunting and the pet trade, have drastically reduced the number of red pandas—some estimate that only 2,500 adult red pandas remain in the wild. Red panda are hunted for their pelts, which are made into fur capes and hats. Sometimes, red pandas are caught in snares set out for wild pigs, deer, and takins.
On the positive side, there are now worldwide efforts in place to save red pandas. Some habitat has been designated as protected areas. There are 20 such protected areas in India, 35 in China, 8 in Nepal, and 5 in Bhutan. San Diego Zoo Global supports the Red Panda Network, a nonprofit organization that identifies unprotected red panda habitat and trains “forest guardians” to conduct awareness-building workshops on red pandas at local villages and work with villagers to establish new protected areas. Forest guardians also continue baseline research and monitoring of red panda populations.
At the San Diego Zoo, our red pandas serve as excellent ambassadors for their species, and we hope they motivate our guests to help save wildlife. San Diego Zoo Global participates in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan (SSP) for red pandas. The mission of an SSP program is to cooperatively manage threatened or endangered species populations within managed-care facilities. Working together, we can save this beautiful and appealing animal.