Atascadero’s city-owned Charles Paddock Zoo received $100,000 this month for a red panda exhibit.
The new exhibit would be the zoo’s first new habitat since the 1970s, zoo Director Alan Baker said. Other exhibits have been revamped.
The money came from the estate of the late Thelma Vetter, a local animal enthusiast and Atascadero resident since 1946.
Red pandas are a raccoon-sized mammal from the southern foothills of the Himalaya mountains in Asia.
One red panda has already arrived at the zoo, which signed up for the animal five years ago. The zoo may be selected to receive a breeding pair this year. The animals would be kept from public view until the exhibit is built, Baker said.
“Our goal here at the zoo is to become a breeding partner with the panda group,” he added.
There will be no bars or caging between visitors and the red panda.
“It will be very naturalistic,” Baker said, likening it to a forest.
It’s not yet known how much money is still needed to finish the panda project, Baker said, but he would like to see it built within a year.
Vetter’s gift will be used to complete the design, which has been on hold because of lack of funding, Baker said.
The zoo, established in 1955, has several new additions planned as funding becomes available. Next up is moving the flamingos to near the new entrance and reopening the revamped gift shop in July.
The planned expansion could triple the number of species the zoo has today. The zoo currently has about 225 animals in 20 exhibits.
About the red panda
Red pandas aren’t related to the black-and-white giant panda. But both have a small, thumb-like digit on their front paws to hold bamboo shoots, their diet staple.