Bamboo on the menu for Jo'burg Zoo's red pandas

A red panda takes a bite of a piece of bamboo leaf at the Johannesburg Zoo, January 2013. The endangered red panda requires a complex diet of bamboo, berries and bird eggs. Photo: eNCA / Bianca Bothma
The endangered red panda requires a complex diet of bamboo, berries and bird eggs. Photo: eNCA / Bianca Bothma
Katherine Visser, primate curator at the Johannesburg Zoo, touches a red panda, January 2013. Visser was involved in hand rearing this animal since birth. Photo: eNCA / Bianca Bothma
A red panda looks out the glass window of its enclosure at the Johannesburg Zoo, January 2013. These endangered animals require a complex diet of bamboo, berries and bird eggs. (Bianca Bothma/ Photo: eNCA
A rare sight – red pandas play fight early in the morning at the Johannesburg Zoo, January, 2013. These endangered animals spend most of the day resting and are rarely seen being so active. Photo: eNCA / Bianca Bothma

Slightly bigger than a cat, a bright red thick fur coat and a playful nature, the red panda loves to feed on the soft leaves of the bamboo tree. Also on this mammal’s list of favourite foods are fruit pieces, small mammals and eggs.

This specialised diet is what makes it one of the more difficult animals to keep at the Johannesburg Zoo says primate curator Katherine Visser. “Fortunately, bamboo grows very well at the zoo, which ensures the pandas get enough leaves to feed on every day.”

Besides being high maintenance, these animals could also qualify for the top spot  of most adorable, but don’t be fooled by their cute appearance and playful nature, says Visser, these endangered animals can be quite aggressive with their sharp claws and teeth.

Also known as the fire cat, the red pandas are part of the zoo’s conservation breeding programme that is affiliated with the African Presentation Programme and the Global Species Management Plan. There are currently eight pandas on exhibit and they can be seen playing in the early mornings or late afternoons while resting in the heat of the day.

Usually found in Himalayan regions living in snowy bamboo forests, red pandas have been classified on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources’s (IUCN) red list as vulnerable. There are less than 10,000 mature adults existing in the wild and this number is expected to decline by more than 10% over the next three years. The biggest threats causing their declining numbers is habitat loss and poaching for their fur and the pet trade.

Did you know:

  1. The red panda is the original panda as it was described as a species in 1821, before the giant panda was even discovered
  2. The Firefox web browser is named after the red panda.
  3. The name “panda” means “eater of bamboo” in Nepalese “Nigalya poonya”
  4. Red pandas have an enlarged bone that counts as an extra thumb and helps them to grab bamboo stems.
  5. A red panda can eat up to 200,000 bamboo leaves per day. 


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