Within the Kovler Lion House, in a place hidden from the eyes of guests and caregivers alike, two new red panda cubs have been growing in their secluded den.
Nestled beneath their mother, Leafa, they started out small and largely helpless, dependent on mom for every aspect of their care. Born June 24, they lacked the species’ signature red fur at first, bearing only faint yellow markings. Until their first physical exams yesterday, the cubs’ growth was visible only on the camera installed in their den box, giving Lincoln Park Zoo’s animal-care experts a black-and-white view of the new animals as they nuzzled mom and called for milk.
These new arrivals represent a species that, unfortunately, was recently classified as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The shift from its previous vulnerable status reflects severe projected population declines for red pandas in the wild. The species occupies a limited niche—bamboo and evergreen forests in the Himalayas—making them especially susceptible to habitat loss as well as threats including illegal poaching and the spread of disease from domestic dogs.
Like the giant pandas with whom they share a name, but not much genetic kinship, red pandas feed primarily on bamboo shoots and leaves they gather from the treetops. A specially adapted “panda’s thumb” (an extension of the wrist bone) helps them grip their green meals.
The cubs at the Kovler Lion House—a male (above) and a female (below), as yet unnamed—are the second in two years for breeding pair Leafa and Phoenix, following male Clark and female Addison, now at San Diego Zoo and Northeastern Wisconsin Zoo respectively. Together, all the cubs highlight the strength of zoos’ collaborative efforts to keep their population sustainable over the long run.
Born June 24, this female red panda cub received her first checkup alongside her brother on July 27. The pair remained nestled in a behind-the-scenes den at Lincoln Park Zoo's Kovler Lion House.
The newest arrivals, like most at the zoo, came about thanks to a breeding recommendation from a Species Survival Plan®. These collaborative management efforts, shared by accredited institutions throughout the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, represent a cooperative approach to population planning. Experts at the Lincoln Park Zoo’s Population Management Center work with peers across North America, analyzing family trees to identify the best matches to maintain healthy populations.
Our newest red panda cubs are still feeding on mom’s milk in their den, but they will likely be venturing out in the coming weeks. Their official debut is dependent on Leafa. She has access to the outdoor yard and has already taken one of the cubs on an extremely brief excursion there.
Zoo caregivers and veterinarians conducted their first wellness check yesterday, which showed that the cubs have met their developmental milestones to date. While there are still some crucial steps ahead, our caregivers are cautiously optimistic the cubs will continue to thrive under Leafa’s practiced care. Look for more updates as they grow.
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