It has been a double birthday celebration for our cute and popular red pandas here at the zoo this week. Tai Jang our female turned five on June 12 whilst our male Bai Jiao was also five on June 14.
They received their favourite panda cake which consists of a variety of nutrients including protein, essential vitamins, minerals and high fibre. However bamboo, fruits, pellets and other leaves make up a majority of their diet.
The name panda is thought to be in reference to the Nepali word ponya from the phrase nigalya ponya, meaning “eater of bamboo”. Just like the giant panda they share a similar diet however they are very different in appearance with the red panda slightly more racoon looking with a lovely red coat and long bushy tail which they can wrap round themselves like a duvet to keep warm.
They also use their tails for balance and are excellent climbers and spend most of their time in trees. If you wish to see our red pandas, then that is always the first place to look. They have semi-retractable claws which also give them amazing grip and allows them to pull leaves off branches. Originating from the forests and mountain ranges of Nepal, China, Bhutan and India their fur helps keep them camouflaged in amongst the red moss in their natural habitat.
Bai Jiao moved here from Cotswold zoo originally, whilst Tai Jang came here from Leipzig zoo in Germany and are part of the European endangered species programme.
The red pandas trained every day, encouraging them to come down from the trees, follow a target stick around and be hand fed by the keepers. This is done every day generally around 1.30pm which is the best time for the public to see them in action. This allows us to do health checks and weigh them.
Females tend to be more confident and Tai Jang regularly comes down, touches the target stick with her nose and received a reward. This training technique is called positive reinforcement and can be used for a whole range of species.
Red pandas are an endangered species with fewer than ten thousand left in the wild. They are poached for their fur and also taken from the wild to become part of the illegal pet trade.