Love is a bear necessity of life

Conservation experts are hoping love is in the air for at least two new residents at Edinburgh Zoo this Valentine’s Day.

Photograph by: RZSSBruce the red panda

After an eight-year break red pandas have been welcomed back to the zoo as part of a major international programme to save the species.

The two Pandas, little bigger than the size of a domestic cat with bear-like bodies, have been named Bruce and Ginger.

Bruce was the first red panda to arrive last year and was housed in a temporary home while finishing touches were being made to his and Ginger’s new accommodation. Ginger, the young female red panda, arrived a few days ago from the Netherlands and quickly got settled in.

The pair are side by side at the minute in separate enclosures but, once they have had a chance to get used to their surroundings, keepers will begin the introduction process, putting the two in together.

Photograph by: RZSSBruce in his new home

Their new home is a far cry from their natural habitat in the mountains and high-altitude forests of Nepal, northern Myanmar and central China.

However, the pairing of the two red pandas is incredibly important as red pandas are now more threatened than their famous counterparts, giant pandas, following the recent reclassification of giant pandas from endangered to vulnerable.

Although called red pandas, they are actually not related to their famous black and white counterpart, the giant panda. But, like giant pandas, they also have a false thumb or extended wrist bone which allows them to grasp bamboo.

Despite being genetically classed as carnivores they eat very little meat. Instead they prefer mostly bamboo, fruits, eggs and flowers.

Red pandas are listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List, their global population estimated to be lower than 10,000 individuals and continuing to decline as a result of habitat loss and fragmentation, as well as poaching and accidental trapping.

Photograph by: RZSS

Conservation charity the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) makes annual species support payments to the Red Panda Endangered Species Programme Forest Guardian Support Programme, which protects red pandas in their native habitats in the wild.

Darren McGarry, Head of Living Collections at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo, said: “We are delighted to have red pandas back at the Zoo.

“The new couple will help play a vital role in the conservation of this increasingly threatened species. Through the European Endangered Species Programme we hope to breed Bruce and Ginger, creating a safety-net population which will ensure they do not become extinct in the wild.

“We’ve already seen how conservation efforts have helped increase the giant panda population, so we hope to be able to do the same for other species such as the red panda.”