Meet Melbourne Zoo’s Red Panda Babies

The twin cubs made their public debut this morning.

With their bushy tails, little-old-man eyebrows, and rust-coloured coats, red panda are difficult to resist – even more so as cubs.

Keepers at Melbourne Zoo today announced names for the male twin red pandas born in December.

Keta (weighing in at 815 grams) was named after the Nepalese word for “boy” and Mandu (815 grams) is short for Kathmandu. The names relate to Nepal, where red pandas are found in the wild.

Dr Christine Cheng and Zookeeper Monique Counihan hold Keta

“Keepers have taken quick peeks at the cubs and conducted brief handling sessions to determine their general health and condition them to the presence of Keepers.  However we have minimised any disturbance to ensure that we didn’t disrupt Roshani from providing her babies with the best possible mothering,” says Carnivore Department Manager Adrian Howard.

“Fortunately we were able to install some monitors in the nest boxes before they bred - that is only a one-day window, the shortest of breeding seasons!  So for the first time we have been able to keep a close eye on the cubs during their earliest days and monitor their behaviour after any disturbance.”

See inside the red panda den below.

The red panda is dwarfed by the black-and-white giant that shares its name.

These pandas typically grow to the size of a house cat, though their big, bushy tails add an additional 46 centimetres. The pandas use their ringed tails as wraparound blankets in the chilly mountain heights.

Dr Christine Cheng and Zookeeper Meryl McGlone with Mandu

The red panda shares the giant panda's rainy, high-altitude forest habitat, but has a wider range. Red pandas live in the mountains of Nepal and northern Myanmar (Burma), as well as in central China.

These animals spend most of their lives in trees and even sleep aloft. When foraging, they are most active at night as well as in the gloaming hours of dusk and dawn.

Red pandas have a taste for bamboo but, unlike their larger relatives, they eat many other foods as well—fruit, acorns, roots, and eggs. Like giant pandas, they have an extended wrist bone that functions almost like a thumb and greatly aids their grip.

Dr Christine Cheng and Zookeeper Meryl McGlone

They are shy and solitary except when mating. Females give birth in the spring and summer, typically to one to four young. Young red pandas remain in their nests for about 90 days, during which time their mother cares for them. (Males take little or no interest in their offspring.)

The red panda has given scientists taxonomic fits. It has been classified as a relative of the giant panda, and also of the raccoon, with which it shares a ringed tail. Currently, red pandas are considered members of their own unique family—the Ailuridae.

Red pandas are endangered, victims of deforestation. Their natural space is shrinking as more and more forests are destroyed by logging and the spread of agriculture.

[Images courtesy of Melbourne Zoo]

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