Rare red pandas born in Winnipeg

Two rare baby red pandas, born at Winnipeg's Assiniboine Park Zoo in June, are being brought out to meet the press.
There are only 8,000 surviving red pandas in the Himalayas of China and adjacent countries. ((CBC))

Two rare baby red pandas, born at Winnipeg's Assiniboine Park Zoo, are being brought out to meet the press.

The two female cubs were born at the facility in June, but the announcement was just made Thursday by zoo officials.

The endangered animals will be introduced to the media Thursday. They won't likely be on display at the zoo for the public, however — at least not in Winnipeg.

"These two recent newborns will be placed in other zoos as soon as they are weaned," zoo curator Dr. Bob Wrigley stated in a press release.

"One will go to the Columbus Zoo in Ohio [and] the other to the Prospect Park Zoo in New York. Their placement is part of the International Red Panda Species Survival Plan."

One of two red panda cubs is bottle-fed Thursday at the Assiniboine Park Zoo. ((CBC))

There are only 8,000 surviving red pandas in the Himalayas of China and adjacent countries, due to poaching and loss of over 50 per cent of their habitat from forest destruction and fragmentation, according to Assiniboine Park Zoo.

About 800 red pandas exist in zoos, most within formal breeding programs.

Assiniboine Park Zoo is home to four adult red pandas. Two of those, named Dash and Slash, are the parents of the cubs.

Cubs being hand-raised

Dash abandoned her young last year, so a decision was made to hand-raise the two newest cubs rather than risk losing them, a statement from the zoo said.

Red pandas at the Winnipeg zoo have contributed 10 offspring to the captive population over the past several years, in spite of the species' usually high mortality rate of 50 per cent in the first year.

Sash and Dash arrived in Winnipeg in the spring of 2002 from the Yokohama and Asahiyama zoos in Japan.

The red panda exhibit in Winnipeg is currently undergoing renovations, so the red pandas are not on display to the public.

Slightly larger than a domestic cat, with reddish-brown fur and a long, shaggy tail, the red panda eats mainly bamboo, augmented with insects and small birds and rodents.

Evolution has provided it with a special "thumb" from a wrist bone, which is used in grasping food, according to Assiniboine Park Zoo officials.