The cuteness is here: Zoo welcomes rare red panda

Mei Mei, a furry 3-year-old tree dweller, is settling into her new home

What's black and white and red all over? Mei Mei the red panda! The fluffy 3-year-old arrived at the Oregon Zoo earlier this month, and is already making herself right at home in her new habitat.

"We're so excited to have Mei Mei here," said keeper Sara Morgan. "She's very outgoing and curious — she poked her nose out and started exploring right away."

Mei Mei's new home is in the zoo's former Amur leopard habitat. To prepare for her arrival, her care team remodeled the space to accommodate a tree-dwelling, bamboo-eating red panda by adding many branches and leafy plants, along with a bubbling pond and lots of room to climb. To keep her cool in hot weather, they added some refreshing misters and an air-conditioned den box.

Keepers say Mei Mei has full access to her habitat now, but she may not be visible all the time.

"Red pandas are known for their climbing ability, and Mei Mei is no exception," Morgan said. "If you visit her at the zoo and don't spot her right away, be sure to look up — she can often be found lounging in the trees."

Morgan says Mei Mei also spends a fair amount of her day napping, and might be snuggled up in her den box at times.

Though they share part of their name with giant pandas, red pandas are in a class all by themselves: The sharp-toothed, ring-tailed omnivores are the only members of the Ailuridae family. Found in the montane forests of the Himalayas and major mountain ranges of southwestern China (Nepal, India, Bhutan, China and Myanmar), their striking red, white and black fur provides camouflage in the shadowed nooks of the trees amongst reddish moss and white lichens.

Wild red pandas are solitary animals, spending most of their time alone or in small groups. Mei Mei is the first red panda to arrive at the Oregon Zoo, but keepers hope to welcome another in the coming months.

Red pandas are an endangered species with populations declining by about 50% in the past 20 years. While exact numbers are uncertain, there could be as few as 2,500 left in the wild. In addition to habitat loss and fragmentation, they are also face threats from poaching and the illegal wildlife trade. Accredited zoos are participating in coordinated breeding programs to help preserve them.

Mei Mei came to Oregon on a recommendation from the Species Survival Plan for red pandas — a cooperative program among zoos that helps create genetically diverse, self-sustaining populations to guarantee the long-term future of animals. These SSPs also support relevant field projects, research and public education to help prevent animal endangerment and extinction.

The Oregon Zoo is a service of Metro and is dedicated to its mission of inspiring the community to create a better future for wildlife. Committed to conservation, the zoo is currently working to save endangered California condors, Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits, Oregon silverspot and Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies, Western pond turtles and Oregon spotted frogs. Other projects include studies on black rhinos, Asian elephants, polar bears and bats.
 
The zoo relies in part on community support through donations to the Oregon Zoo Foundation to undertake these and many other animal welfare, education and sustainability programs. The zoo is located five minutes from downtown Portland, just off Highway 26 at exit 72. The zoo is also accessible by MAX light rail line. Visitors who travel to the zoo via MAX receive $1.50 off zoo admission. Find fare and route information online or by calling TriMet Customer Service at 503-238-RIDE (7433).
 
General zoo admission is $10.50 (ages 12-64), $9 for seniors (65 and up), $7.50 for children (ages 3-11) and free for those 2 and younger; 25 cents of the admission price helps fund regional conservation projects through the zoo’s Future for Wildlife program. A parking fee of $4 per car is also required. Additional information is available by calling 503-226-1561.

Media contact: 

Hova Najarian | 503-220-5714 | hova.najarian@oregonzoo.org
Kelsey Wallace | 503-220-5754 | kelsey.wallace@oregonzoo.org