September 19 marks International Red Panda Day, and the WNC Nature Center has a lot to celebrate! It has officially been a year and a half since the red pandas, Leafa and Phoenix, were introduced to Asheville as the newest residents of the Nature Center home!
According to Nature Center Animal Curator Erin Oldread, Leafa and Phoenix have become quite the super stars! “Our guests love to see and meet the red pandas,” she said. “We often hear how their cute, fluffy faces look like stuffed animals.” When the keepers are asked which animals are their favorite to work with, the red pandas is a common answer. What makes them such interesting animals? “They are full of personality!” says Erin. “Our red pandas are intelligent but lazy. Keepers have to build a strong relationship based on trust to work with them on husbandry behaviors.”
Husbandry behaviors are an important part of animal care that enhance the animals’ daily lives by creating opportunities for the animals to interact with their environment as they would in the wild. These behaviors also teach the animal to participate in their daily and veterinary care.
Because of the training involved with husbandry behaviors, Leafa and Phoenix have been adjusting well to their Asheville home. As transplants from Chicago, they have thoroughly appreciated their air conditioned indoor space, locally grown bamboo, and fresh variety of fruits. Chesley, one of the red pandas’ main keepers, loves caring for them: “Our Red Pandas both have amazing personalities, and it is a privilege to work with them. They are most active when they forage for fruit and vegetables that we scatter around their habitat. I really enjoy watching them climb, especially Phoenix!”
The prehistoric cousin of the red panda, Bristol’s panda, once called the Appalachian region home more than five million years ago, which is why its present day ancestors reside at the WNC Nature Center. The red panda habitat is the first of the Nature Center’s Prehistoric Appalachia exhibits.
Through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, WNC Nature Center had the opportunity to bring the endangered red panda to Western North Carolina as a part of its Species Survival Program, which helps to secure this species’ future. In the past, Leafa and Phoenix have contributed greatly to their species with four cubs. You can celebrate International Red Panda Day by symbolically adopting Leafa and Phoenix at wildwnc.org/adopt.