Cub born after international lonely heart appeal for red panda


A rare red panda cub has been born after keepers launched an international lonely hearts advert to find a mate for their male. 

Father Ajenda, which means King of the Mountain, came to Longleat safari park in Wiltshire from Germany in 2012.

Keepers issued an appeal for a panda mate to be found and mother Rufina, meaning 'red haired', arrived from Italy just over a year later.

The cub, who is not yet named or sexed, marks the first successful breeding of red pandas at the safari park.

The birth is particularly welcome as the pairing of Ajenda and Rufina is deemed to be critical to the success of the European Endangered Species Programme for the red panda.

Keeper Robert Curtis said: "We're delighted with how well Rufina is looking after the young cub and both mother and baby are doing brilliantly.

"Cubs don't tend to start venturing out on their own for the first three months and Rufina, like all red panda mums, regularly moves the cub to different nesting areas.

"This is perfectly natural behaviour but makes keeping track of the baby, or even confirming what sex it is, somewhat problematic for us."

Red pandas - like their famous but unrelated namesakes the giant pandas - are increasingly endangered in the wild.

The species was designated as "vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2008, when the population was estimated at about 10,000 individuals. 

A "vulnerable" species is one which has been categorised as likely to become "endangered" unless the circumstances threatening its survival and reproduction improve.

Red pandas are naturally found in Nepal, Bhutan and China, where they live among bamboo forests and spend much for their time in trees. 

In the wild, red pandas are solitary animals and only usually come together to breed. 

About two-thirds of their food intake is made up of bamboo, which they must eat a large quantity of to survive. 

Bamboo is relatively low in calories, meaning red pandas spend much of their time either eating or sleeping.

Keepers supplement the diet with a mixture of fruits, eggs and the occasional insects, as well as a special bamboo cake. 

A red panda was featured as Master Shifu, the Kung Fu teacher, in the 2008 film Kung Fu Panda and its 2011 sequel Kung Fu Panda 2.