red-pandas

Two rare red pandas were born at the Valley Zoo in Edmonton Tuesday. Zookeepers say the births are critical to the species' survival. ((Valley Zoo))

Zookeepers across the continent are celebrating the birth of two extremely rare red pandas at Edmonton's Valley Zoo.

The cubs, which were born at 3:26 a.m. Tuesday,are part ofa very small population of red pandas in the world. It's estimated that there are fewer than 2,500 red pandas alive in the wild because the animals' natural habitat in China, India and Nepal is being destroyed.

Forty red pandas are being raised in zoos. TheValley Zoo has joined an international breeding program in an effort to keep the species alive.

"They're a species survival program animal," said Sandy Helliker, an animal health technologist at the zoo who is taking care of the cubs."So the species is managed so that hopefully at some point, they'll be able to be re-introduced into the wild."

Currently, the cubs are being kept away from the parents because the mother, Lala, was over grooming them and causing lacerations.

Hellikerhasspent several sleepless nights this week hand-feeding the cubs, who need to eat every three hours.It's not an easy task, she said.

"It's sort of like raising a baby," said Helliker."It's very tiring. Actually,I think it's more tiring than when I raised my two kids."

The two new cubs won't be released back into the wild. However,their offspring could be.

"We know that some of these species that are being bred will eventually end up back in the wild, and that's really important to us," said Jan Archbold, a spokesperson for the zoo.

It will be about three months before the cubs will be on display with their parents, Koko and Lala.

Thezoo willhold a contest this summer to name the pandas.

"It's hard to not get attached to something so little and cute," Helliker said.