The birth of all animals is a special moment that is unlike no other. In some cases, the birth of offspring is a monumental moment for the entire species and provides hope for the future. Over time with more and more animals moving toward possible extinction, the birth of offspring is becoming necessary. Currently, across the United States, zoos are stepping in to aid in conservation efforts in the hope to prevent the extinction of certain species. Every birth is a gift and a step toward saving the species.
On June 13th, 2023, the Memphis Zoo located in Memphis, TN, welcomed two red panda cubs. Although Hazel, the mother has given birth in the past, this is the first time Itsuki, the father has had cubs with Hazel. Itsuki and his brother Xing were born at the Assiniboine Zoo located in Canada in 2014. In 2017, the brothers were transferred to the Memphis Zoo. Hazel was born in Cincinnati in 2016 but was transferred to the Woodland Park Zoo before arriving at the Memphis Zoo. The Red Panda Species Survival Plan (SSP) recommended Hazel be brought to the Memphis Zoo to breed with Itsuki due to the endangered status of Red Pandas in the wild. The goal of the SSP is to increase and diversify the population of Red Pandas in zoos around North America.
Hazel and Itsuki are the same subspecies of Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens styani) which is one out of two subspecies. In the past, it was said Red Pandas were a part of the raccoon family, but later, after studying the species further, the species was closely related to the bear family. The species is native to China and Myanmar but can also be found in regions including Nepal, India, and Tibet. Typically, Red Pandas spend their time in tall trees which also helps protect them from predators.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists Red Pandas as endangered species with a current decline in population. There are currently less than 10,000 Red Pandas left in the wild. According to the Red Panda Network, the number one cause of the population decline is habitat loss. Many forest habitats that Red Pandas thrive in are cut down by livestock herders to build and maintain sheds. Herders also own dogs to protect their livestock, but the dogs often attack Red Pandas and spread deadly parasitic diseases. The species is also poached for their fur, especially in China, Myanmar, and Bhutan where fur caps and hats are sold. With habitat destruction, the amount of available bamboo can be affected. Because Red Pandas' diet mainly consists of bamboo, not having a large supply could lead to malnourishment.
Red Pandas also contribute to the well-being of the ecosystem. With a diet that primarily consists of bamboo, Red Pandas aid in the stable growth of bamboo in the ecosystem. Every day, Red Pandas consume approximately 20,000 bamboo leaves. Bamboo unlike other plants, releases approximately 35% more oxygen into the air, therefore, Red Pandas directly contribute to the air quality. Red Pandas are also an indicator species for the Eastern Himalayan broadleaf forest ecosystem. Red Pandas' presence in the ecosystem provides information about the quality and well-being of the environment.
The Red Panda Network, which was founded in 2007 by Brian Williams, dedicates its time and effort to saving Red Pandas. They have several research programs aimed at studying Red Panda populations, especially in Nepal. They also work toward efforts in habitat protection and restoration as well as protecting the species from poachers and the illegal wildlife trade.
Edited by: Whitney Edna Ibe
Photo by: Nashville Zoo
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