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Archive for Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Red pandas get new quarters at zoo

December 28, 2005

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— Two cold-loving red pandas have been moved from an often overlooked part of the Kansas City Zoo to a home closer to the entrance, where they are being promoted as a wintertime attraction.

Red pandas are native to the steep, forested slopes of the eastern Himalayan Mountains and can thrive in a Midwestern winter. The zoo's Web site reads: "Red Pandas: 'We really like winter; come visit us!'"

Like their cousins, the giant panda, red pandas feed on bamboo. But they're much smaller: about 2 feet long and 14 pounds.

Zoo officials had hoped the pair, dubbed Tan and Fagan, would mate. But they have had no panda babies, and at 10 years old, Tan is nearing the end of her reproductive life. Soon, she will be sent to another zoo, while a younger female panda from Minnesota will be brought to pair this winter with 5-year-old Fagan.

Panda babies, which could arrive as early as June if all goes well, would help sustain the captive population of red pandas. Deforestation has trimmed the native population to 16,000 to 20,000 and falling, according to a 2001 estimate.

With pointed ears and snouts, the red pandas resemble raccoons or cats or bears. They use their bushy tails, which are ringed with dark bands, for balance while climbing trees and for curling up in to stay warm.

Animal area supervisor Cinnamon Williams enjoys working with the usually even-tempered pandas.

"If you get between them and their food, they're not easygoing," she said.

"If they see bamboo coming, they're trying to cut you off before you can put it out for them."

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