As we move out of the winter months, the warmer weather seems to be finally on the way.
This might be good news for some of our animals here at Flamingo Land, but not all of them have been particularly fussed by the cold! One of those is the red panda, who I’ll be introducing you to this week.
Although the word “panda” might remind you of the black and white bear, giant pandas weren’t actually the first to get that name.
Red pandas, which are not at all related to giant pandas, were in fact discovered a full 50 years earlier. They are distantly related to raccoons, but are actually placed into their own family, Ailuridae.
The only reasons they share their name with giant pandas are because they both live in China and both eat bamboo.
They are found at high altitudes in the Himalayan mountains, and deal with the cold weather with a thick orange coat and a bushy tail which can be wrapped round their neck to use as a scarf.
Although the coat colour may be quite distinctive to us, it provides excellent camouflage among the moss-and lichen-covered trees in which they spend most of their time. They are also excellent climbers, with sharp claws to dig into bark, and feet that can rotate backwards to act as a set of brakes when climbing down headfirst. Primates aside, they are one of very few animals that can do this!
Like the giant panda, red pandas eat bamboo, but have the same issues digesting stringy cellulose fibres so it provides them with little energy.
To avoid starvation, they will supplement their diet with fruit and vegetables, plus occasional small mammals, birds and eggs. As well as fruit and veg, we give them something called panda cake, which provides them with the extra fibre and protein not found in bamboo.
Due to this low energy input, they will spend most of the day asleep, and most of their awake time searching for food. They are most active at dawn and dusk, but around lunchtime is usually a good time to see them at the zoo.
Depending on how warm the day is, they can either be found curled up in a ball next to a tree trunk, or sleeping stretched out on a branch with their paws dangling down on either side.
We have a male and female pair of red pandas here at Flamingo Land, called Bái Jiăo (meaning “white feet” in Mandarin) and Tai Jang (meaning “great prize”). They are around two years old, and have been living in their new enclosure since January last year.
Although they are still fairly young, we are hoping to have some cubs in the future, as they are considered to be vulnerable by the IUCN. This is mainly due to habitat loss and poaching, even though they are legally protected in all of the countries in which they are found.