By Dasha Morgan- As part of the WNC Nature Centers’s new Prehistoric Appalachia project, an exhibit of two new Red Pandas have become Asheville residents: Leafa and Phoenix.
The City of Asheville is excited to announce that the exhibit of these playful, curious animals will open to the public on Valentine’s Day. Introduce your youngsters to a new adorable animal that needs protection to survive. Leafa and Phoenix are part of the Species Survival Program associated with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Red pandas are currently endangered with only several thousand remaining in the wild. This pair of red pandas came to the WNC Nature Center from the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. The female, Leafa, is ten years old and the male, Phoenix, is seven. The two have lived together and had offspring in the past. They are currently settling into their new home at the WNC Nature Center, out of view from the public.
In order for the pair’s transition to be as smooth as possible, the Center decided to give the red pandas a maximum amount of time to adjust to their new home without being seen by the public. They arrived in November and are only be seen by the public this February.
Much of the funding for the red panda exhibit comes from the Friends of the WNC Nature Center, a non-profit organization that has provided funds for the Nature Center for over 40 years. For more information about the Friends of the WNC Nature Center, visit www.wildwnc.org. To support the red panda fundraising efforts, go to https://wildwnc.org/news-and-blog/support-red-pandas-this-holiday-season. Or better yet, visit Leafa and Phoenix at the WNC Nature Center at 75 Gashes Creek Road, Asheville, 28805.
Red Panda Characteristic
Red pandas are small mammals with long, fluffy tails and red and white markings. Primarily a bamboo eater, this charismatic mammal is covered in fur the color of cinnamon, which keeps it warm in cooler climates. Found in the mountains of Nepal, central China and Northern Myamar, red pandas are losing ground due to their specific habitat needs for their food staple, bamboo, that grows in areas that have become more and more disturbed by human activity.
Though they share a name with the more famous giant panda, they are not closely related. In fact, the name ‘panda’ was first applied to these animals, and not to the larger black-and-white bear.
Red pandas are primarily crepuscular — active at dawn or dusk — but they can be active any time of the day, according to the National Zoo. They are solitary creatures; males are territorial and will mark their territory with strong odor from the scent gland at the base of their tail. Like skunks, red pandas can unleash the smell when they are scared to fend off a predator. If that doesn’t work, they stand on their back feet and strike out with the claws on their front feet, according to the San Diego Zoo.
These creatures spend most of their time in trees, eating and sleeping without the need to step foot on soil. They also like to lie on branches to sunbathe as they sleep. It can get a bit chilly at night where the red pandas live, so to keep warm, they often wrap themselves in their fluffy tails. When temperatures drop significantly, red pandas can become dormant. Their metabolic rate gets lower and increases only every few hours to wake them up so they can look for food, according to the National Zoo.
When they wake up, red pandas groom themselves like cats, according to the San Diego Zoo. They lick their front paws and use them to wipe down their fur instead of a full tongue-to-fur bath, though.
Special Visiting Opportunities
While most of the public will wait until Valentine’s Day, the Friends of the WNC Nature Center have recently announced giving opportunities that support the red panda habitat and give donors a chance to see them up close. For $250, donors receive 2 tickets to a soft opening of the red panda exhibit in early February and a donation of $1,000 allows the donor and up to 3 guests to have a private red panda encounter! The number of these special experiences is limited to ensure the pandas’ well-being and comfort. If you’re still looking for a last minute holiday gift, symbolic red panda adoptions start at $25, and red panda merchandise is available at the Nature Center gift shop.