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Published: March 14th 2010
Isha enjoying a grape.
Today we ventured into the suburbs to visit the Wellington Zoo. The zoo is pretty dinky compared to other zoos we have visited (e.g. the Singapore Zoo and the San Diego Zoo), but the zoo is home to one of our favorite animals - red pandas.
The red panda is a very distant cousin of the famous Gaint Panda (yes, the one with millions of fans and probably billions of cuddly plush impersonators). However, the red panda looks nothing like the Giant Panda and is actually more closely related to the raccoon. Luckily red pandas are much, much cuter, softer, and friendlier than raccoons and, as far as we know, they don't carry rabies.
In the wild, the red panda can be found in temperate forests in the Himalayas (Burma, Bhutan, China, India, Nepal). Only about 10,000 to 30,000 of the cute furry guys are left in the wild and their status is considered "vulnerable", just a few steps away from "endangered".
We were thrilled beyond belief to discover that not only does the Wellington Zoo have several red pandas in residence, AND a new baby red panda was just born on December 25th, BUT for a fee
Isha in his enclosure
we could sign up to have a "close encounter" with them!!!!
At 11am this morning two friendly zookeepers led us into the red panda enclosure. There are six red pandas in total:
- Two are an older "mating pair" who are now "retired" (from mating?) and are about to live out their retirement dream in the United Kingdom
- Two are a current mating pair; the mother (Amy) and father (Isha).
- Sir Ed (named for the extraordinary Kiwi explorer, Sir Edmund Hillary) is Amy and Isha's son. He is three.
- The new little baby cub has yet to be named (in part because the zoo veterinarian won't be able to determine its sex for a few more weeks).
We met all of the pandas except for Amy (the mum) and her new baby. The keepers led us in to each of the three separate enclosures (one per couple; Sir Ed has his own) and we waited patiently for the pandas to come over to check us out. Their rewards for visiting us tourists are their favorite snacks: grapes and pears. We weren't allowed to pick up the pandas, but if they jumped up on our laps
What are you looking at?
(most did) to take the fruit from our hands, we were allowed to pet them. They are very, very soft and have long fluffy tails and adorable faces.
What can we say? Playing with the red pandas was one of our favorite experiences during our six months of travel. Check out the photos and we think you'll agree: who wouldn't love these guys?
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