5 October 2023
A pair of rare red panda cubs at Whipsnade Zoo have been given their first vet check, as the internationally important twins start to leave their nest box and explore their surroundings for the first time.
Zookeepers have shared fascinating images and videos from the health check, as well as revealing the sex of twins which were born to Mum Ruby and Dad Nilo in June 2023.
Vet Hannah Rowland said the twins were male and female, which was incredibly rare.
“It’s extremely unusual to get twin brother and sister red panda cubs, which makes the birth of these cubs even more significant. The pair have been named Alex and Priya.”
Hannah and Vet Nurse Karla Berry listened to the three-month-old twins' hearts and lungs, had a thorough check of the pair's eyes, before keepers helped them to vaccinate and weigh the fluffy red cubs.
“The check-up is a great opportunity to have a thorough look over Alex and Priya before they take off into the sky and start climbing the towering trees on their island at the UK’s largest zoo,” Karla said.
“Red pandas are endangered, with numbers in the wild continuing to decline. This is why the twins, and their health is so important. When they’re older Alex and Priya will join the European Endangered Breeding Programme, to help ensure there is a healthy and genetically diverse back up population of red panda numbers if numbers continue to fall.”
Karla added that the lively cubs were the perfect patients.
“The keepers picked Alex and Priya up from their cosy nest box as Mum and Dad looked on. Like any babies the cubs were a bit wriggly but very well behaved. After the vaccinations the pair were given some bamboo twigs to chew as a reward, one of the pandas' favourite snacks.”
Keeper Hayley Jakeman said Alex and Priya were quite adventurous and had started exploring their new home.
“There are even more opportunities now to spot a red panda at Whipsnade Zoo, with the family of four exploring their tropical island. While visitors may spot Dad Nilo climbing his favourite oak tree, Ruby and her cubs can often be seen playing in the grass.”
Red pandas (Ailurus fulgens) hail from the Himalayan mountains of Nepal, Myanmar and India, as well as forests in Western China, where they are threatened by habitat loss, a decline in their main food source - bamboo - as well as poaching for the illegal pet, meat and medicine trade.
ZSL - the international conservation charity behind Whipsnade Zoo - is working in the Terai Arc Landscape, an area which spans both Nepal and India, to prevent the illegal wildlife trade, which has led to declines in Endangered red panda, Asian elephant and Bengal tiger populations. ZSL conservationists have helped to train more than 400 rangers, build guard posts and watchtowers, and install surveillance equipment to monitor these threatened species.
The red panda cubs were named by generous donor, Mike Hudson, who advises ZSL innovation, as part of ZSL’s Safari in the City fundraising gala silent auction.
Mike said: “I’m delighted to support ZSL’s work to protect the planet’s most threatened species, and I am looking forward to visiting Alex and Priya at Whipsnade Zoo, a ZSL conservation zoo, at the next possible opportunity.”