Fargo zoo welcomes 3 newborn red pandas
“The first one born was only 2.7 ounces, that was the smallest red panda I ever heard of,” the zoo director said.
FARGO — It was love at first sight for Pepper, the Chinese red panda at the Red River Zoo in Fargo.
Her paramour, Bo, was shy but over time their relationship blossomed. Three months later Pepper gave birth to two healthy cubs on Sunday, July 11.
“It is really based on the individual reaction to each other. Sometimes Pepper was really interested in him and he was like, 'You’re coming on too hot and heavy,'" said Sally Jacobson, the zoo’s executive director. Pandas are “just like people, with individual personalities.”
Before Pepper’s babies were born, another arranged coupling between red pandas at the zoo took place. Phayara, and a male, Kharo, who was brought to Fargo a month before the coronavirus pandemic began, became the proud parents of a female cub on June 22.
“The first one born was only 2.7 ounces, that was the smallest red panda I ever heard of,” Jacobson said. “She was very tiny and that made us very cautious. We choose not to hand-raise animals because we want them to learn and be nurtured by her mother.”
Pepper and Phayara's pairings with their mates were coordinated through the zoo's cooperative relationship with the Chinese red panda Species Survival Plan and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, who are specialists in red pandas, Jacobson said.
Finding appropriate mates for Pepper and Phayara is slightly more difficult than dating in the human world, she said.
“This is years in the making for us to have this responsibility and privilege. We don’t breed until they make a recommendation and they also recommend what pandas,“ Jacobson said. “There is a very small window each year where you can breed them.”
The public won't be able to see the cubs for at least 4.5 months, Jacobson said, adding that at a later date new homes will be found for them.
“Pepper is spicy and her babies are the same,” Jacobson said.
Pepper’s cubs were born at a normal weight between 3.8 to 5.9 ounces, but recently zookeepers discovered they needed extra nutrition, and they’re feeding them powdered milk through a tiny tube.
“The first 30 days are most critical, so we have cameras on and people are monitoring them 24 hours a day,” Jacobson said.
“We’re going to name them and we will try to do daily updates on social media so people can follow the story. Their story shows the care and expertise of our staff and what they do with these animals,” Jacobson said.
In 2019, master escape artist Sheffield , also a red panda at the Red River Zoo, tried to flee his enclosure twice, but he is still at the zoo and “he’s doing good," Jacobson said. "He’s just an extraordinary panda. He’s challenging."
Since opening 22 years ago, the Red River Zoo has specialized in featuring the Chinese red panda. In 2012, the zoo won the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Edward H. Bean Award for significant achievement with red pandas, Jacobson said.