Young Red Panda Passes at Lee Richardson Zoo

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Lee Richardson Zoo

Shikha, the red panda cub that was being hand-reared at Lee Richardson Zoo, passed away unexpectedly on Wednesday, August 21, 2019. She was 35 days old. Necropsy results revealed no apparent cause of death, and tissues have been sent in for testing.

Shanu, the cub being reared by her mother, Ember, seems to be doing fine. Ember recently started venturing out of the den box for brief periods; Shanu, with her eyes open now, is taking a few “first steps” in the den rather than “swimming” on her belly.

“Shikha had generally been a little behind her sister in development but had recently opened her eyes and was making attempts at figuring out what her hind legs were really for. Staff put their hearts into rearing her and are dealing with the impact of her death as well as they can,” said Zoo Director Kristi Newland.

According to data from the Red Panda Species Survival Plan, first-year mortality is approximately 46%. Fifty percent of the cubs Ember has produced over the years, counting Shanu, are thriving.

“We’re all heartbroken about Shikha, but every minute of raising her was worth it,” said Lead Keeper Rebecca McElroy.

While red panda cubs look like miniature versions of the adults, they aren’t very mobile early on, so they tend to stay in or near their den for 8-10 weeks after birth. Based on the timing of events with Ember’s previous litters, Animal Care staff expect Ember and Shanu to make their first outdoor appearance sometime in late September or early October. Until then, footage of mom and cub will be on the zoo Facebook page, YouTube channel, as well as local cable channel 8.

Superb climbers, red pandas can descend trees headfirst like a squirrel, thanks to a special rotating ankle joint. In the wild, they are found from Nepal to Burma, and into Central China. They are listed as Endangered by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) primarily due to the destruction of their habitat for human use (logging, farming, firewood, etc…). There has also been an increase in poaching and trafficking for the pet trade. Visit the zoo’s website (www.leerichardsonzoo.org) or the Red Panda Network (redpandanetwork.org) to learn more about this fascinating species.