A rare pair of red panda cubs have made their first public appearance at UK safari park Longleat.
The 10-week-old twins were born in the summer but are only now beginning to venture outside their den.
The female cubs are the first to have been born to new parents, named Emma and Lionel, as part of a successful breeding programme for the endangered species in the grounds of the Wiltshire stately home.
‘Both cubs are doing really well,’ said animal keeper Sam Allworthy. ‘Emma is a great mum and she has been looking after them fantastically. Although we have yet to name them, we have been able to do their first health checks and can confirm they’re both females.
‘These are the seventh and eighth red pandas to have been born here at Longleat. Previous cubs have gone on to collections all over Europe and have even had cubs of their own.’
Red Panda Roots
Red pandas can be found in the wild in Nepal, Myanmar, Bhutan and China, where they live among bamboo forests, spend much of their time in trees and are accomplished climbers. It is thought there may be as few as 2,500 living in the wild, as they are increasingly under threat due to habitat loss, deforestation and poaching. They are solitary animals, and only ever come together to breed.
The pandas are often killed when they get caught in traps meant for other animals such as wild pigs and deer. They are also poached for their distinctive pelts in China and Myanmar. Red panda fur caps or hats have been found for sale in Bhutan.
The species was officially designated as ‘Endangered’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2008 when the global population was estimated at about 10,000 – a figure which has declined markedly in recent years.
Primarily a herbivore, the name panda is said to come from the Nepali word ‘ponya,’ which means plant eating animal.
Like giant pandas, about two-thirds of their food intake is made up of bamboo. As it is relatively low in calories, red pandas tend to spend much of their time either eating or sleeping.
As well as plain bamboo, the Longleat keepers supplement the diet of their pandas with a mix of fruits, eggs and the occasional insects. They also make a special type of bamboo cake.
In addition to being part of the European Endangered Species Programme for the Red Panda, Longleat is also helping to fund habitat restoration and replanting programmes in Nepal.
The species has proved popular with western natural historians since it was first identified. French explorer Frédéric Cuvier, who published the first Western scientific description of the animal in 1825, deemed it ‘quite the most handsome mammal in existence.’
And naturalist and writer Angela Glatston, in a book she edited about red panda biology, described the animal as ‘flamboyantly clad in chestnut, chocolate and cream,’ and called it ‘a creature of great beauty and charm.’