Red pandas are well known for being adorable, with their teddy-bear eyes, snuffly noses and thick russet-coloured fur. So what could be even cuter? That’s right – a teeny-weeny red panda! On 28 June, female red panda Shine (7) gave birth to her second baby at Tierpark Berlin. It will be a while yet before the tiny cub learns to climb and is on view to visitors. In the meantime, it will remain in the den snoozing and gaining strength.
It is difficult to determine the exact gestation period of red pandas as, in a clever adaptation to conditions in their native home, red panda mothers can actually pause their pregnancy. If the circumstances don’t seem right, implantation of an embryo in the uterus is delayed. At birth, red pandas are blind and helpless and weigh only around 100 grams. “In late June keepers heard a faint sucking sound coming from inside the den and guessed it must be a newborn feeding,” says curator Dr Florian Sicks. “It wasn’t until seven weeks later that we caught a glimpse of the cub inside the den.” The baby is currently still nameless and its sex will only be determined when the vet comes to administer its first injections. Baby red pandas are generally in no hurry to explore their surroundings, usually staying in their den for around three months before venturing outside. Red pandas have much more exciting love lives than the giant pandas after which they are named. Amorous males go to great lengths to win over the female they have set their sights on, squeaking and croaking to get her attention. This is the second year in a row that Tierpark Berlin’s male red panda Joel (6) has been successful with his wooing. Last year’s cub Loha, whose sponsor is local football club 1. FC Union Berlin, has now moved to a zoo in Belgium. Joel lives in the same habitat as his offspring but, like all panda dads, he plays no part in raising cubs.
Increased loss and fragmentation of habitat are threatening the survival of red pandas, which are classified as “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List. A reserve population in zoos could be crucial for conserving the species in the future. “As a modern, science-based zoo, we regard the birth of a baby belonging to a threatened species like the red panda as a great success,” says Zoo and Tierpark Director Dr Andreas Knieriem. “And I have to admit that my heart melts a little when I see that adorable bundle of fur.”