The red panda pair at the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo became parents May 31, the first time a red panda cub has been born here since the zoo began exhibiting the reclusive animals in 1997.
First-time mother Xiao (pronounced JOW), 2, gave birth to two cubs, but one did not survive, the zoo said in a news release. The father is Junjie, age3.
After discovering the births, the zoo set up wooden street barricades to keep people from walking by the red panda exhibit at the end of the overlook in the Central Zoo area. Zookeepers were concerned the presence of visitors could stress Xiao, said Cheryl Piropato, zoo education and communications director.
If the cub survives, it could be weeks or a few moths before it will be out walking around in the exhibit and visible to zoo guests, Piropato said.
The zoo has not had its red pandas breed in the past, mainly because it did not have the right combination of animals, Piropato said. During much of the time the zoo has exhibited red pandas, it has had an older male who wasn't interested in breeding.
Red pandas, which are an endangered species, normally live alone in the wild. They make their home in bamboo forests in the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains in China and Nepal, where they eat mostly bamboo.
They are much smaller and more fox-like in appearance than the black-and-white panda bears native to China.
Xiao and Junjie initially didn't want to have anything to do with each other when brought together in the exhibit, Piropato said.
"When we first put the animals together, they stayed as far away from each other as possible," she said.
But zookeepers noticed breeding activity this year, she said.
“We are very excited about this birth, and we're cautiously optimistic about the cub's future,” zookeeper Helena Lacey, the red pandas' primary caretaker, said in the news release. “But we know that these next few weeks are critical to the cub's survival.”
Only a few dozen red panda cubs are born in United States zoos each year, and about half of all red panda cubs die within 30 days of birth, the zoo news release said.
The cub was removed from the nest for a brief exam Thursday, the news release said. Weighing just under 5 ounces, it squealed and appeared strong and healthy.
Xiao also has been seen carrying the cub from one nest box to another in the exhibit, which is normal behavior, the news release said.
Red panda cubs are born blind and deaf. The mother spends nearly all her time nursing and grooming cubs during the first week after birth, and cubs remain in the nest until they are about 3 months old.
Zoo officials don't know yet if the cub will survive, but they wanted to let the community know because visitors had begun asking questions about the barricades blocking the end of the overlook, Piropato said.
The zoo is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily through Oct. 14. Admission is $13.50, adults; $10.50, seniors age 60 and older; $8.50, ages 2-14; and free, age 1 and younger and Zoo Society members.