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Red Panda romance – a mate for Meili arrives at Lake District Wildlife Park

Charu the Red panda watches visitors to LDWLP
Charu the Red panda watches visitors to LDWLP

[V]isitors to the Lake District Wildlife Park near Keswick may think they’re seeing double this week, with two Red Panda’s now living in the panda enclosure.

It’s official, Meili the Red Panda female has a new companion, a handsome young male called Charu who travelled across from Dublin Zoo. The two Red Pandas were given time to get accustomed to each other before Charu was released into the enclosure. Signs so far are encouraging for the young pair, and in time keepers are keeping their fingers crossed for cubs in the future.

Meili (meaning beautiful one in Chinese) arrived as a youngster from Whipsnade Zoo in autumn 2013. She was initially quite shy, but has become a real star, creeping down from the oak tree for treats during the daily Red Panda talk. Keepers explain how Red Pandas live and how they are becoming more vulnerable in the wild.

 Two Red Pandas – Charu looks down at Meili
Two Red Pandas – Charu looks down at Meili

Working with EAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquarium), who manages the European Zoo Stud Book that allocates Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens), Richard Robinson, Park Manager heard they were allocated a young male called Charu from Dublin Zoo. Earlier this week Richard travelled to Dublin to collect Charu and introduce him to the park in time for the half term holidays.

“We’ve been patiently waiting for this day for years! In the past we’ve been home to juvenile male Red Pandas before they move on to start breeding. The arrival of Meili at the park in 2013 marked the start of our own breeding opportunity and we’re really excited she’s now got a mate.

For a first introduction things have gone well. I opened the door for Charu and he was quite relaxed. He and Meili have said hello several times and they’re keeping an eye on each other in the camouflage of the oak tree.”

Conservation is a strong message at the park, so we’re especially pleased to have a breeding pair of Red Pandas because their IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) status has been elevated from ‘vulnerable’ to ‘endangered’. That’s because their population has declined by 50% in the last three generations. Their natural habitat in the eastern Himalayas and south West China has become fragmented, smaller and vulnerable due to hunting and poaching.”

Red Pandas are slightly larger than a domestic cat, with reddish-brown fur, a long, shaggy tail, and a waddling gait because of its shorter front legs. Meili and Charu feed mainly on bamboo but also eat insects. Nocturnal by nature, they will be spotted in their Oak tree and should come down to feed during the daily keeper talk.

It takes time for the new Red Panda pairs to bond and the gestation period for Red Pandas is 135 days, so it will be quite a while before you can expect cubs.

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