One year old Maliha, a female red panda, came to Potter Park Zoo almost a year ago from the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo. She was introduced to her mate Rupert Jr. and while it wasn’t exactly love at first sight, they have gotten to know each other and seem to be getting along just fine.
“He seemed happier to see her than she was to see him at first,” said Annie Marcum, one of the four Zoo Keepers on the team caring for the red pandas.
Introducing the two red pandas was a three-day gradual process involving switching them from the indoor and outdoor exhibits individually to get them used to each other’s scents and the surroundings. Seeing each other for the first time generated nerves and a response of surprise to see another red panda.
“The introduction went really well,” said Annie. “There were a couple squabbles over boundaries. He wants to sit right next to her and she seems to think that’s a little too close.”
It’s been rewarding for the keepers to see Maliha seem at home at Potter Park Zoo. She has adjusted well and is comfortable with her new routine.
“When Maliha arrived everything was new. She was nervous, but now she comes over to say hi and greets us every morning,” said Annie.
Maliha’s new home at Potter Park Zoo was not a random act; far from it. Her destiny was determined by her Species Survival Plan (SSP). Red pandas are one of the more than 170 animal species involved in SSPs in North America, focusing on animals in danger of extinction in the wild. SSPs work to maintain healthy and genetically diverse animal populations throughout zoo communities.
Sara Glass, North American Red Panda SSP Coordinator and Curator of red pandas at the Knoxville Zoo, describes SSPs as Match.com combined with Ancestery.com for animals.
“The SSP network is a huge cooperative effort among zoos,” explained Sarah. “A Stud Book, maintained on every species, lists each animal currently in the population and we know their pedigree back to the 60s and 70s. A computer program tells us how each panda is related to every panda in the zoo population and how they would match for breeding.”
When deciding Potter Park Zoo was a good home for Maliha, the SSP also considered Rupert Jr., the male panda she was to be paired with along with their exhibit to ensure it suited her needs.
“We look at the overall needs of the species population, the individual needs of the animal and the zoo’s interests and capacity,” said Sarah. “Then we’ll generate a master plan for the animal and prepare a transfer.
Red Pandas – Did You Know?
- Red pandas have an enlarged thumb enabling them to eat bamboo, picking it up almost as if they have a fist.
- Red pandas wrist and ankle rotate allowing them to climb vertically up and down a branch of a tree.
What is a Species Survival Plan (SSP)?
Species Survival Plans are management and conservation programs for animals in danger of extinction in the wild. Started in 1981 by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, SSPs help ensure the survival of selected species. SSP Studbooks document pedigree and demographic history of each animal within a species. These collective histories track and manage every animal in captivity. Ultimately, SSPs are intended to reintroduce captive-raised endangered animals back into their natural wild habitats. Currently there are 172 species included in 116 SSP programs in North America.