NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WBZ NewsRadio) — A zoo on Massachusetts' south coast says its "cutest family" just got a little bigger and more adorable with the birth of an endangered baby red panda.
According to Buttonwood Park Zoo, the single cub was born to the zoo's female red panda, two-year-old Marie, on June 4.
It's estimated there are between 2,500 and 10,000 red pandas remaining in the wild. The cub is the first of its species to be born at BP Zoo in its 126 year history.
“We are waiting for its eyes to open and for it to start walking," said BP Zoo Director Keith Lovett. "As the cub grows, its thick fur will eventually turn the iconic rusty red color that gives red pandas their name. The cub will join mom and dad outside when it can safely navigate the perching in its habitat.”
For the next two months the cub is living in a "nest box," which is located inside the red panda’s night house. At least the first year of the cub's life will be spent with its mother.
"The cub has undergone initial health screenings by Zoo Veterinarian, Dr. Erica Lipanovich," said the zoo. "At 21 days old weighed a healthy 336 grams and measured just over 10 inches in length. Mom and cub are currently bonding behind the scenes and are both doing well."
BP Zoo's Red Panda Keeper, Stephanie Durette-Medeiros, said over the past week, new mom Marie has started to show interest in venturing out into the habitat while the cub is napping.
"She’s typically going out in the morning and then again later in the afternoon," said Durette-Medeiros. "This is usually when we hear some vocalizations from the cub – demanding mom to come back inside!”
Father of the cub, 3-year-old Jacob, has reportedly been "respectful of Marie and the cub, understanding her body language and giving her space."
When the parents are outside in their habitat together, the zoo said Marie is relaxed and comfortable, only “yelling” at Jacob when he approaches her fresh cut bamboo.
The first-time Red Panda parents were first brought to the New Bedford zoo based on a recommendation as part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan (SSP), which the Buttonwood Park Zoo said it is actively participating in.
"The goal of the SSP is to cooperatively manage animal populations to ensure the sustainability of a healthy and genetically diverse population while enhancing the conservation of this species in the wild," said the zoo.
According to BP Zoo's website, Red Pandas are native to the high-altitude temperate forests of Nepal, northeastern India, Bhutan and part of China.
The species is listed as Endangered by the International Union of Conservation of Nature, since the global red panda population has declined by 50 percent over the last 20 years primarily due to habitat loss.
(Photo: Buttonwood Park Zoo)