UPDATE:  As of July 1, 2020, until further notice, the WNC Nature Center remains temporarily closed to the public. The Nature Center is working closely with local officials to develop a plan to safely reopen. This will most likely take place during Phase 3 of North Carolina’s Stay Safe COVID-19 order. We anticipate opening during the month of September and will update the website and our social media platforms as soon as a date is confirmed.

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Red Panda Exhibit to Open Valentine’s Day

Red Panda
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The WNC Nature Center’s much anticipated red panda exhibit will open to the public on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2019!

Our 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 has decided to give the red pandas a maximum amount of time to adjust to their new home without being seen by the public. “We want them to have plenty of time to acclimate to their new surroundings,” said new Nature Center Animal Curator Erin Oldread. “The next couple months will be a time for settling in, getting to know daily routines, and creating relationships with our staff members who will be caring for them. They are playful and curious and already doing great,” said Oldread.

Leafa and Phoenix will, no doubt, be much loved by Western NC residents and visitors. The Friends of the WNC Nature Center has recently announced new giving opportunities that support the red panda habitat and give donors a change to see them up close.

For $250, donors will receive 2 tickets to the soft opening of the red panda exhibit in early February. For a truly memorable, once-in-a-lifetime experience, a $1,000 donation will allow the donor and up to 3 guests to have a private red panda encounter! Five out of ten of the 2019 private encounter opportunities were reserved in the first 48 hours following the announcement on social media. Oldread has carefully limited these special experiences to ensure the panda’s best interests and red panda caregivers will precisely control each encounter.

Symbolic red panda adoptions start at $25. Guests to the Center can also support the red pandas through the purchase of red panda merchandise at the Nature Center gift shop. Fundraising for the red panda exhibit and animal care is ongoing and donations of any size are appreciated.

The red pandas are the first species to be introduced to the Nature Center’s new Prehistoric Appalachia project, part of the Center’s 2020 Wild Vision. Skeletal remains of the red panda’s close cousin, the now extinct Bristol’s panda, were discovered at the Gray Fossil Site in Tennessee and are estimated to be 5 million years old. Red pandas are currently endangered with several thousand individuals remaining in the wild. The WNC Nature Center red pandas will be part of the Species Survival Program (SSP) associated with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The Nature Center is proud to be among just 10% of zoos in the nation to be accredited through AZA.

Most of the funding for the red panda exhibit is coming from the Friends of the WNC Nature Center, a nonprofit organization that has provided funds for capital projects and other needs at the Nature Center for over 40 years. Recent projects funded by the Friends include the Outreach Education Program, which has served over 9,000 people in the past year. The Friends are also donated over $700,000 toward the Center’s newly opened Front Entrance, raised through contributions by the Asheville Tourism Development Authority, Festiva and many gracious donors.

To support the red pandas, go to fundly.com/bringing-red-panda-to-asheville.

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