FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Red Panda Ridge is the newest exhibit at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo and is home to three red pandas.
Four-year-old Anne has been at the zoo for a few years. But, three-year-old Aurora and one-year-old Paula just came over the winter.
Anne and Aurora are both Himalayan Red Pandas and Paula is a Chinese Red Panda.
“That’s great to have the two species. People can see one then the other and appreciate their differences,” Animal Care Specialist Maryssa Breininger said.
Visitors get to see them pretty up-close, too. Anne and Aurora’s exhibit has walking branches right near the mesh and Paula’s exhibit is open.
“There’s no mesh and there’s no glass. You can look out over the beautiful exhibit,” Zoo Executive Director Rick Schuiteman, said.
The red pandas will often be seen doing two of their favorite things: eating and napping. While you’ll see them chowing down on bamboo, they’re actually carnivores.
“They do occasionally in the wild eat eggs and small birds. But, the word panda means ‘bamboo eater,’ so they will eat thousands of leaves of bamboo every single day,” Breininger said.
Helping feed the red pandas is also a new wild encounter at the zoo. Guests can book the experience and will be able to hold a long bamboo branch for Anne or Aurora to munch on.
“We have specially chosen pieces that are long enough so we don’t enter their space too much,” Breininger said. “There is something about feeling them pull or maneuver it while you can also feel that. It’s a totally different kind of connection.”
You can also really see how they use their unique panda paws.
“They have a false thumb that they wrap around and they can grasp things,” Breininger said. “They have wrists that actually they can rotate and that allows them to walk straight down headfirst. They have large claws and very sharp teeth. While they are cute, they are still wild animals.”
Anne and Aurora are both full-grown at around ten pounds. Paula, the Chinese Red Panda, is a little larger and is also as big as she’ll get. While the Chinese Red Panda is very similar to the Himalayan Red Panda, there are a few differences in their coloring.
“They’re more of the dark reddish brownish. Kind of deeper coloring, more distinct rings around their tails and less of a lighter face. She does have white on her face, but more deep color in those markings,” Breininger said.
Just like Anne and Aurora, Paula can also rotate her wrists to climb straight down things.
“She also uses her tail for balance. There are very few animals in the world that can climb down something headfirst,” Breininger said.
Red Panda Ridge is one of the largest red panda exhibits in the country. It’s also part of the species survival plan. In the last 20 years, the red panda population has been cut in half, leaving only around 10,000 red pandas in the world. But, Fort Wayne can help.
“We have a cubbing barn in the back area that guests can’t see, so mom can have cubs and she can take care of them in a nice calm and quiet environment,” Schuiteman said. “When the cubs are old enough, then we’ll definitely have mom and cubs come out on exhibit and having the two exhibits allows us to do that. We can move the adults to one space and mom and cubs to the other. The first year we wanted [the pandas] to get used to their space and then we’ll introduce a male.”
The red pandas aren’t the only animals that call Red Panda Ridge home. In the next Wild on WANE, we’ll meet those other animals and discover an interactive maze.
Watch Wild on WANE every Tuesday at 5 pm and Sunday at 8 am on WANE 15.