The first Red Panda cub to be born to the Smithsonian National Zoo in the last fifteen years came into the world on June 16, 2010. It was love at first sight for the cub's parents, who began breeding behavior almost immediately after introduction. Neither of them had previously birthed children. The Red Panda exhibit is currently closed to give the first-time mom and her new cub ample time to bond.
Red Pandas, unlike the panda bears they are named after, are not a type of bear at all. Their closest relatives are actually raccoons and weasels, although there has been ongoing controversy over their correct scientific classification. They are found in the forests of the Himalayas, from Nepal to China, and in India and Myanmar. They primarily eat bamboo and their bodies have evolved to better adapt to foraging for their food of choice. They have retractable claws curving inwards to better grasp bamboo and narrow tree branches.
Because of their beautiful coloration, Red Pandas have been victim to hunting and poaching. As with most, if not all tree-dwelling species, the Red Panda has also been suffering from habitat loss and deforestation. While they are currently only deemed to be vulnerable by the IUCN, but other organizations estimate that the population is smaller than the IUCN has calculated, and believe that the Red Panda should be considered endangered. Despite the fact that it is not technically considered to be endangered, the Red Panda is protected in every country that it dwells. Some areas where they reside have also found conservation status, hoping to protect the population, but the areas can be hard to police. Continued captive breeding programs are recommended by conservationists to keep a healthy strain of the animal alive, as fewer Red Pandas in the wild have led to some inbreeding. Protecting larger areas of land and properly enforcing existing legal protections are also recommended to rescue the Red Panda.