Red pandas honoured at Assiniboine Park Zoo

Red pandas honoured at Assiniboine Park Zoo

Red pandas might not be exactly native to this neck of the woods, but the adorable looking tree-climbers are being celebrated at Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg this weekend.

It’s all part of International Red Panda Day, an annual event held to raise awareness of the small mammal, which is native to the Himalayas and lives almost entirely off of bamboo.

“It’s a day to focus on education awareness about a species that is actually endangered,” explained Heather Penner, a zookeeper at Assiniboine Park Zoo who helped organize the two-day event.

Assiniboine Park Zoo is home to seven red pandas, two of which — Sachi and Tango — will be most familiar to zoo-goers because they’re on display at the zoo’s Toucan Ridge exhibit.

One of the zoo’s red pandas takes a break from the weekend’s festivities Saturday. (CBC)

But Penner says there’s other, older red pandas who live a quieter existence at a less busy corner of the zoo and two other red panda cubs the public doesn’t get the chance to see.

That’s because those cubs are part of an international breeding program run by the Red Panda Network designed to boost the animal’s numbers around the world.

The Species Survival Program watches red pandas in captivity worldwide and plays matchmaker, with an eye for making sure the pandas it hooks up have good genetic diversity.

The relationship between these two is more than just a fuzzy feel-good Valentine’s Day story; they carry the hopes of an endangered species that faces threats from deforestation and illegal poaching. 0:51

And it seems to work — Sachi and Tango were set up through the program — and they have become fast friends.

Like Sachi and Tango, the two cubs from Winnipeg who are currently out of the public’s eye will eventually move on to other facilities to meet their possible future partners, says Penner.

Two days of red panda partying

The celebration of red pandas at Assiniboine Park Zoo kicked off Saturday and continues Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.

Activities held over both days include a station where zoo-goers get the chance to learn about the mammal’s adaptation — like the camouflage they use to blend in with their environment — and a balance beam course that shows how the pandas use their bushy tails for balance.

There’s also face painting, a photo booth and a selfie station.

The weekend’s activities celebrating red pandas include face painting. (CBC)

Penner says just because we don’t see red pandas outside of the zoo here in Winnipeg, it doesn’t mean there aren’t things we can do here everyday to help their survival.

That’s because the number one threat facing the animal is climate change.

Penner says by reducing our carbon footprint through things like recycling and conserving water on this side of the globe we can make a difference for red pandas in their natural habitat.

Another threat, says Penner, is deforestation, which is taking away the animal’s natural habitat and ultimately making it harder for them to find food.

The Red Panda Network estimates there are roughly 2,500 red pandas left in the wild worldwide. (CBC)

The red panda population in their eastern Himalayan natural habitat has declined more than 50 per cent over the last three generations, and deforestation and illegal hunting are expected to make the situation much worse, the International Union for Conservation of Nature says.

The Red Panda Network estimates 2,500 red pandas are left in the wild, says Penner.

And because red pandas are the last living examples of their unique species, Penner says it’s important everyone works together to help remove them from the endangered species list.

“We want people to just come and have fun and learn about red pandas but more importantly learn some simple ways that they can help this endangered species from home,” she said.

Proceeds from select activities at Red Panda Weekend will go to help Red Panda Network’s efforts to save the species.

Published at Sat, 01 Sep 2018 21:22:43 -0400