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Zoo Christmas comes early with birth of red panda

Auckland Zoo is celebrating the birth of a Nepalese red panda cub, describing its delivery, a little earlier than anticipated, as “a precious early Christmas present”.

• The tiny arrival to first-time parents, mum Khela and dad Ramesh, is estimated to have weighed around 100gm when born overnight on 1 December. Now over 250grams, the newborn is a very valuable addition to zoos’ international breeding programme for this ‘Endangered’ species (IUCN Red List) under threat from deforestation and illegal hunting.

“Red panda breed just once a year and normally give birth from late December through January, so we were pretty surprised, but over the moon, to discover this precious little cub curled up with Khela in the nest box when we arrived at work,” says the Zoo’s Carnivore team leader, Lauren Booth.

“It’s never possible to predict exactly when animals will breed and give birth. This year it became warmer much earlier than usual, so this could have been an environmental cue for Khela and Ramesh to breed earlier than we anticipated – something we may see more often with climate change.”

Four-year-old Khela moved to Auckland Zoo from Hamilton Zoo last year to be paired up with three-year-old male Ramesh, and is proving to be an exceptional first-time mum to the 17th red panda cub to be born at Auckland Zoo.

“Khela is naturally confident and calm. From the camera in the nest box, we saw from the start that her newborn was suckling well, and is now a very healthy size for its age. Khela’s doing everything right for her little one and also looking after herself to ensure she continues to be a great provider. She’s been venturing outside for brief periods to eat and take short naps up in the trees, which has given us the opportunity to briefly health check and weigh her cub,” says Lauren.

Zoo red panda helping red panda in the wild

As well as contributing to the international breeding programme for red panda, Auckland Zoo Conservation Fund, with support from Zoo visitors, supports Nepal’s Red Panda Network (RPN), a project Lauren has had first-hand experience working alongside.

“I feel incredibly fortunate to have worked with red panda here at the Zoo for over 10 years. I’ve also been privileged to have joined RPN’s forest guardians and other amazing staff as they work to save red panda in the wild – through monitoring, education and empowering local communities. This year our funds have also supported the growing and transplanting of tree species eaten by red panda in an effort to restore degraded red panda habitat in Nepal’s Taplejung district.

“It’s heartening to know that our support here in Aotearoa really does make a positive difference to help this unique and extraordinary species that is so vital to these forest ecosystems and local people who depend on them,” says Lauren.

Follow Khela’s cub’s progress

Red panda cubs are blind for the first 18 days of life and fully dependent on their mothers for their first three months, and independent by eight months. Khela will keep her cub tucked away in the next box until she’s happy for it to venture outside with her – likely to be in late February/early March. The sex of Khela’s cub will be determined in eight weeks’ time when a full veterinary health check takes place.

While Zoo visitors won’t be able to see Khela’s cub until later this summer, we’ll be bringing everyone regular updates, photos and videos via our Auckland Zoo’s social channels.

Notes to Editor Auckland Zoo’s red panda Khela gave birth overnight in an off-display nest box on 1 Dec Khela’s cub is the 17th Nepalese red panda cub to be born at Auckland Zoo Father, three-year-old Ramesh who was born at Auckland Zoo in 2015.

• The sex of Khela’s cub will become determined at its 10-week veterinary health check Auckland Zoo is currently home to five red panda: Khela and Ramesh and their cub, and females Bo and her daughter Mohini (both currently off display).

• Red panda cubs are born blind and helpless and dependent on their mothers for their first three months. Visitors to Auckland Zoo will likely be able to view Khela’s cub from late February/early March. In the meantime, the Zoo encourages everyone to check out its social media channels and website for updates including photos and video content. Red panda Facts The red panda (also known as the fire fox) lives in the mountains of Nepal and northern Myanmar (Burma), as well as in central China Its average life span is eight to 12 years, though red panda can live considerably longer in zoos.

• It is estimated there could now be as few as 2,500 red panda remaining in the wild (and approximately 500 in zoos worldwide) The IUCN List classifies the red panda as ‘Endangered’. It is threatened by illegal hunting an deforestation, with remaining populations becoming fragmented and isolated from each other.

• The Auckland Zoo Conservation Fund supports the work of Red Panda Network in Nepal. Public can help Auckland Zoo support the work of Red Panda Network by donating here: www.aucklandzoo.co.nz/get-involved/conservation


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