Potter Park Zoo (PPZ) is committed to the conservation of the red panda species. To create an environment for successful red panda reproduction zoo staff determined many changes needed to be made to the red panda exhibit if PPZ was going to continue to participate in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan (SSP) for the red panda species.
Thus zoo staff began planning to renovate the old spider monkey exhibit into a proper home for the red pandas that would allow for more positive animal welfare. Jeff and David Williams of Williams AutoWorld provided a generous donation which helped make the exhibit possible.
Animal care staff knew the animals needed more space. The new exhibit is 4x larger than the old exhibit and this allows the animals
to have more choices and more opportunities to move around. One of the specific requirements for the outside exhibit was that it needed to be 16 feet high. In their natural environment Red pandas spend most of their time sleeping and resting in trees and for their welfare they need the opportunity to replicate that. Animal care staff worked closely with maintenance staff during the building of the exhibit to get branching set at the right height and also in specific locations so every branch has an entrance and an exit. Red Pandas can occasionally be territorial about the space they are occupying and they need to be able to move to a different area without having to go directly past the animal showing aggression.
One change made specifically with breeding in mind was to have a dedicated maternity room. It is necessary to give Maliha the privacy and seclusion needed during parturition (birth), and the rearing of cubs to eliminate as much stress as possible. Specific nest boxes were built to meet the recommendations of the SSP red panda husbandry manual allowing for Maliha to choose the nesting area she was most comfortable in.
Although these changes were made primarily with the animal’s welfare in mind, all of the modifications also enhance the visitors experience while observing the red pandas. By creating a comfortable space for the red pandas, visitors can see more natural behaviors like relaxing on a branch in the middle of the day or moving from branch to branch to munch on the fresh bamboo provided several times daily . The new exhibit also gives visitors the opportunity to watch cubs grow into adults and see the interaction between a mother and cubs.
One small, but just as important, change was the addition of training platforms. Keepers utilized these to condition several behaviors in our red pandas, which allows for more consistent monitoring of their health including Maliha’s pregnancy. Watch for more information about the training keepers do later this week.