A rare red panda cub has been caught on camera, after being born at West Midlands Safari Park for the first time in its 50-year history.
Keepers suspected that three-year-old red panda Mei Lin, was due to give birth after seeing her settle into one of her nest boxes mid-June.
A few days later, on 16 June, keepers heard tiny squeaks coming from the box and noticed that Mei Lin was grooming something inside.
They have since spotted glimpses of a tiny red panda cub and were lucky enough to capture the cub on camera, when Mei Lin moved nest boxes.
It's the first red panda cub that the zoo's had in its 50-year history.
Discovery Trail Keeper, Kyle Wingfield, said: “This is both a hugely exciting, but also nerve-wracking time for us. It’s fantastic that Mei Lin and our male, Sanka, have successfully mated, after only being introduced just over a year ago.
"After a gestation period of four and a half months, the cub arrived, making it the first red panda cub we’ve ever had at the Park in our 50-year history. Whilst this is incredible news, it’s also important to remember that this is Mei Lin’s first time at being a mum and she is doing a great job so far, but it is still very early days.”
He continued: “Red pandas are listed as ‘endangered’ in the wild with fewer than ten thousand individuals left, making every birth that more important. Whilst things look promising so far, with Mei Lin showing all the right, maternal signs, we will continue to monitor her from a safe distance allowing her the space, privacy and time she needs, as she adapts to being a new mum.”
When the cub is around three months old, keepers will perform a health check and will find out what sex it is - while keeping a close eye on it until then.
It’s at this point where a name will be chosen for the cub, beginning with the letter ‘L’, as all animals born at the Park in 2023, have names beginning with this letter.
Mei Lin was the first red panda to arrive at the Park in August 2021 and was joined by male, Sanka, in March 2022 as part of an EEP (Eaza Ex-Situ Programme), which is a collaborative breeding programme between European zoos, aiming to conserve endangered species.
Why is the birth of a red panda so significant?
Red pandas are listed as ‘endangered’ by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature), with wild populations decreasing, due to threats such as habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation, caused by human activities.
Reports of red panda hunting, poaching and smuggling for the illegal wildlife trade are also worryingly on the rise.
Almost 50% of the red panda’s habitat is in the Eastern Himalayas.
Red pandas are very skillful and acrobatic animals that predominantly stay in trees. They use their long, bushy tails for balance and to cover themselves in winter, presumably for warmth.
Primarily an herbivore, the name panda is said to come from the Nepali word ‘ponya,’ which means bamboo or plant eating animal.
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