Belfast Zoo is celebrating another successful red panda breeding year with the birth of Tango, the zoo’s third cub to parents Vixen and Chris.
Tango, a female cub, was born on 26 June 2019 and recently received her first health check by the zoo’s veterinary team. Red pandas are an endangered species and face a high risk of extinction in the wild. They are native to temperate forest regions in the Himalayan Mountains.
Father, Chris, arrived at Belfast Zoo from Beekse Bergen Safari Park in the Netherlands in 2013. As part of the European collaborative breeding programme he was joined by female, Vixen, from Dresden Zoo, Germany, in April 2017. The pair hit it off straight away and have had annual breeding success every year since. Last year, Vixen gave birth to twins, Autumn and Amber, who were transferred to zoos in Sweden and Germany earlier this year as part of the collaborative breeding programme, with hopes of having cubs of their own in the future.
Zoo curator, Julie Mansell, said “Red panda cubs are born blind and develop quite slowly, so they spend the first few months in the den. For this reason, Tango is still primarily in her den during the day and has only recently become active during the night. Keepers installed cameras in the red panda enclosure to keep an eye on the progress of the cub. Tango has started to explore her surroundings during the night with mum and dad by her side and has started getting more adventurous. We hope that she will start making appearances during the day in the coming weeks for visitors to see.”
Red pandas are also known as ‘lesser’ panda or ‘firefox’. It is believed that their name comes from the Nepalese term for the species ‘nigalya ponya’ which translates as ‘bamboo footed’ and refers to their bamboo diet. It was originally thought that this species was related to the raccoon family or even the other bamboo eater, the giant panda. They have since been classified as a unique species in their own family, called Ailuridae. Red pandas spend most of their time in the trees. Their sharp claws make them agile climbers and they use their long, striped tails for balance.
Zoo Curator, Julie Mansell, continued: “Red pandas are native to the Himalayas in Bhutan, Southern China, Pakistan, India, Laos, Nepal and Burma. However, red panda numbers are declining dramatically in the wild due to habitat loss and illegal hunting for their fur, in particular their long bushy tail which is highly prized as a good luck charm for Chinese newlyweds. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) believes that the red panda is facing a very high risk of extinction and is categorised as an endangered species, so we are delighted with the breeding success of red pandas in Belfast Zoo.”
Julie continued: “Our red pandas are part of a collaborative breeding programme to ensure a viable safety net population in captivity. Every red panda birth is therefore not only a cause for celebration for the Belfast Zoo team but for the species as a whole. One of our roles is to create conservation links between captive populations of endangered species being managed ex situ and wild populations being managed in situ. We support a number of in situ conservation campaigns including the Red Panda Network who are celebrating International Red Panda Day on Saturday 21 September 2019. We encourage visitors to come along to Belfast Zoo on this date to learn more about this beautiful and charismatic species, and to try and catch a glimpse of our newest arrival.”
International Red Panda Day will be celebrated on Saturday 21 September 2019. Belfast Zoo is open from 10am to 6pm (last admission 5pm).