There is a male and female cub who will need the care of their new human parents until they are 9 to 12 months old. Keepers, Ann Norsworthy and Sarah Jurgens have been tag teaming the care of the cubs. The pair have already hand raised 3 cubs in the past so are very experienced in this field.
Norsworthy noted that “The decision to pull them is never taken lightly.” For red pandas though this decision is normally required. In zoos as in the wild mother red pandas just do not have a maternal instinct.
It dosen’t help that they start out so small as Scheer say’s “When they are born they are the size of an egg; they are really slow to develop …When you think about it, it’s pretty amazing babies survive at all in the wild.”
The baby’s mother is Sophia and the father is Duli. Sophia’s cubs are normally taken away due to her excessive grooming. Last year’s cub Lincoln was taken at 3 weeks old after developing a sore on his neck.
A cut appeared on the females neck meaning the cub had to be taken away. Keepers hoped this would make Sofia try harder with the male but this did not occur meaning he too had to be pulled.
Scheer said that, “It gets to a point where we have to intervene or we are going to lose them.”
Norsworthy and Jurgens will normally sleep at the zoo for the cubs first days. They need to be feed with a tube down their throat and have their bottoms rubbed to help them go to the toilet. This time though this did not occur. Jurgens also had a human 3 year old to care for and a husband who was just out of hospital. This meant they travelled home with her and Norsworthy came over to help.
Once grown the male is slated for a move to Montana where he will meet a female to breed with. The female will remain at the zoo as there are no breeding plans for her.
Before this another important milestone must be reached. Currently the cubs have no names and this will remain till they are 6 months old as keepers believe it is bad luck to name a hand-raised baby before its survival is guaranteed. As such the cheeky twins are known as him and her.
Keepers found it hard to distance themselves from the cubs though and gave them nicknames. As such the female is called Duliette as she is like her father or Sassafras as she can be a bit sassy. The male is called cub or Roly Poly.
The cubs are getting older and now feeding is a bigger challenge. They need to have five bottles 3 times a day from their little doll like bottles. Currently they are more aware of their surroundings meaning they wish to play and pounce while keepers try to get the teat into their mouth.
Norsworthy said in a whisper that “Red pandas are not the brightest of the animal kingdom.”
Soon the animals will move onto biscuits and bamboo which is the most dangerous part of their life journey. Norsworthy added that “Weaning is very stressful on all animals. A lot of cubs are lost between 4 to 6 months of age, even when they are with their parent, because the mom doesn’t let them nurse.”
Due to the large number of animals they hand raise the overtime costs are mouting. The zoo has bred reindeer, sheep, bats, wallabies, marmosets and lemurs which ended up being handraised.
Red pandas may be rare in the wild but in zoos it has been a totally different story this year. For the first time the Association of Zoos and Aquariums decided to cut off the breeding of red pandas after they managed to have 40 of them born.
Even better is that they now make it to their 20s in zoos up from reaching a maximum of 12 in the past.
Photo Credit: Lincoln Children’s Zoo