Charles Paddock Zoo employees are in mourning after a seemingly healthy adolescent red panda was found dead in its nest box early Saturday morning.
The red panda was one of two born at the Atascadero zoo in June. The other young red panda, and the adult mating pair also in the same exhibit are in apparently good condition, zoo Director Alan Baker said.
When zoo staff arrived Saturday morning, it wasn’t immediately clear that anything was wrong because the animal was curled up as if it were snoozing, Baker said.
“It doesn’t have any wounds or show an obvious cause of death and appears to have just expired in its sleep,” he said. “We’ll be doing a full necropsy and hope to know more when we get the results.”
The death is especially disheartening for zoo officials because the two youngsters were the first offspring born after the zoo received a $100,000 gift in 2011 to open a naturalistic red panda exhibit.
An adult male was acquired in 2011 and an adult female the following year; animal handlers at the zoo were thrilled when the female soon became pregnant. The babies survived their early vulnerable months and seemed to be thriving, Baker said.
“We’ve had absolutely nothing to indicate there was an issue at all,” he said.
Red pandas are raccoon-sized arboreal mammals from the eastern Himalayas and southwestern China, where their populations have been in decline. Their sweet faces, rich cinnamon-red fur, long bushy tail and waddling walk have endeared them to zoo visitors.
The zoo “family” of employees and supporters will be notified of the death, Baker said.
“This isn’t like a job here,” Baker said. “It’s like we have 100 pets. When something happens it’s really really sad. Everyone is upset today. It’s crushing.”
Baker said the staff is closely monitoring the surviving three red pandas but there are no plans to change their care unless the cause of death is determined and adjustments are indicated.
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