Jun 23

Red Panda Pride

One of the first things visitors learn when they visit the red pandas in the new Asian Highlands exhibit at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium is that the animals aren’t pandas – or even bears – at all.

“They were placed in the same category as pandas because their faces are similar and they eat a lot of bamboo, but they’re actually a species all on their own,” says Ryan Whisney, a senior keeper at the zoo. “They’ve also been compared to raccoons and weasels, to which they’re a little more genetically similar but, again, not completely.”

While the zoo’s two new female red pandas, Tofu and Wasabi, might be in a class all their own, they have certainly fit right in at the zoo.

“They spend their days lying in the evergreen, under the mister fans and when it’s a little cooler, they take turns coming down to eat bamboo,” says Whisney. “They’re pretty sociable, but they’re still wild animals so we do a lot of training with them to keep them well-managed.”

Whisney says they started with two females because they learned from other zoos that red panda packs are the most successful when females outnumber males. But a male will be joining the exhibit soon, and keepers will work closely with the Species Survival Plan to determine a breeding protocol.  

According to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) red pandas are currently considered an endangered species due to low (and decreasing) numbers as a result of habitat loss and habitat fragmentation, Whisney says. “There just aren't a lot of opportunities for a male to go through the trees and find a female.”

You can support the care of our red pandas, and be part of the global conservation for the species, by becoming a Zoo Mama or Zoo Daddy to a red panda. Please click here to learn more.