The Central part of the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo is home to two red pandas – Xiao and Mars. This type of panda is native to the Himalayan mountains of Asia, so these two aren’t big fans of the Indiana heat. According to zookeepers, there are times when the summer heat can be a little too much for them. To provide relief, the zoo has installed air conditioners in their sleeping boxes, fans in the outdoor habitat, and provides them ice cubes and frozen treats. Many folks are surprised to learn that the red pandas stay out year-round. Zookeepers simply provide them straw piles and heat pads in the winter. They’re used to much colder weather in the Himalayan mountains.
When you stop by to see these furry friends, there’s a good chance they may be having nap time. That’s because they are most active at dawn and dusk. Zookeepers feed Xiao and Mars early in the morning and in the evening when they’re most active. They’re also up and about overnight.
About 90 percent of the red pandas’ diet here at the zoo consists of bamboo. For enrichment, zookeepers will often take strands of bamboo and shove it into feeder balls. And while bamboo may be the favorite food of these red pandas, they also enjoy fruits, veggies, and leaf-eater biscuits. Zookeepers also provide different items for them to forage through, like paper products such as paper machete, or boxes or paper bags.
These pandas may seem cute and cuddly, but zookeepers have to be careful. They are still bears after all, complete with sharp claws and powerful jaws that can do some damage. Zookeepers also insist that they’re not as soft as people think they are – their fur is more coarse than it is soft.
You may remember the red pandas making headlines last year when baby Maliha was born. She’s since left for Potter Park Zoo in Lansing, MI, but her mother Xiao is still here in Fort Wayne. Mars is new to the zoo, arriving last November. Both have a breeding recommendation, which is important since the species is endangered due to poaching and habitat loss. We will not have any babies this year – breeding season has passed. Breeding season typically occurs during the middle of winter – January, February, sometimes into March. Zookeepers are hopeful that there will be some breeding this winter and perhaps a cub or two next spring and summer!