Look out Bao Bao, there are new panda cubs in town. Red panda cubs, that is. On May 27, a female red panda (Ailurus fulgens) gave birth to a litter of cubs at the Smithsonian’s Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) in Front Royal, Virginia. Three cubs were born, but only two survived. The National Zoo released a picture of the two surviving cubs earlier this week.
Spring and summer is red panda birthing season. But the birth came as a bit of a pleasant surprise to the staff at SCBI because they never saw the parents—a male named Sherman and a female named Yanhua—doing the deed. Both are relatively young, so while staff hoped and expected to breed them, they thought she might give birth later in the season. Three additional females are also on “pregnancy watch” and expected to give birth later this summer.
Though perhaps not as well known as giant pandas, red panda populations face threats in their native habitats in Southeast Asia, too. The IUCN Red List classifies the species as vulnerable—largely due to habitat loss from deforestation. Red pandas are native to the cool mountain forests of Bhutan, Mayanmar, Nepal, China and India, but less than 10,000 adults remain in the wild. Interestingly, their relatives include both giant pandas and raccoons. At SCBI, red pandas are part of the species survival plan, which manages breeding across all zoos and aquariums.
In the coming months, the staff will monitor the mother and her cubs as they become integrated into the SCBI red panda community. When red pandas were last in the news, the National Zoo’s resident male, Rusty, had escaped his enclosure to explore a backyard in northwest D.C. These cubs will remain at SCBI, so it’s unlikely we’ll see them on the lam in Woodley Park anytime soon.