Photo credit: Auckland Zoo

Matchmaking red pandas to save the species


The red panda insurance population has received a boost with eight of the endangered cubs born over the last year in the Zoo and Aquarium Association (ZAA) program for zoos across Australasia.

The result is partly thanks to the program’s very own red panda matchmaker.

Given the essential task of helping each red panda find their perfect partner, ZAA Species Coordinator Matt Clifton searches far and wide to play cupid for the animals as part of a global breeding program.

“It’s not exactly Tinder but I do use software to help work out which pandas could be a potential match.” says Mr Clifton.

“Once the pandas have been paired up, based on many factors such as social compatibility and genetic diversity, it’s the job of the zoo keepers to make sure their first date goes well.”

With every meeting getting a little longer than their last, the shy pandas are soon ready to spend the night together, which means it’s time for the keepers to start talking birth plans to ensure mum and cubs are happy and healthy.

 “The entire process is usually as hands-off as possible, giving the panda families a chance to bond and behave naturally while video technology allows keepers to monitor the animals and assist if needed,” said Mr Clifton

 Auckland Zoo’s new cub, Tashi and Taronga Zoo’s recently announced triplets join older cubs in the Australasian breeding program from Perth Zoo, Symbio Wildlife Park and Wellington Zoo. These are only the most recent success stories from the ZAA breeding program which has contributed 35 healthy cubs to the global program since 2012.

The holistic approach to red panda conservation, combining breeding efforts in zoos with hard work to protect and restore their natural habitat, provides a great blueprint for what a successful global program looks like.Though breeding programs are a key part of conservation, they are only one part of the fight to save an endangered species like the red panda.

Equally important is the work that takes place in the field to ensure the remaining animals left in the wild are protected in their natural habitat.“What a lot of people don’t realise, is just how much zoos contribute to supporting their field conservation partners,” says Mr Clifton.

“In the case of red pandas, many ZAA-accredited zoos holding the species are also funding the Red Panda Network (RPN).

”The funding is used to support community education and specialised training for ‘Forest Guardians’ that track and monitor the animals’ activity throughout protected areas established by the RPN.

The program benefits red pandas, people and the environment they share, supporting the livelihoods of more than 1,000 families in Nepal and giving locals a newfound appreciation for the animal and its environment.

As a peak body, the Zoo and Aquarium Association (ZAA) represents the collective voice of the zoos, aquariums, sanctuaries and wildlife parks across Australasia that operate to the highest standards.

ZAA and its member zoos lead over 100 breeding programs in support of conservation and community education.