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VIDEO: Twin red panda cubs move on, new babies expected

Greater Vancouver Zoo continues its efforts to preserve, enhance endangered species

Then there were two.

The red panda population at the Greater Vancouver Zoo has been fluctuating up and down in recent years, with the most recent addition of a new mate for Arun named Paprika.

It took several years for the Greater Vancouver Zoo to initially qualify for participation in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ species survival program for red pandas.

It started with Arun and his brother, Rakesh, coming from the Assiniboine Zoo in Winnipeg to live at the zoo in Aldergrove in summer 2015. Rakesh died a short time later from a lung infection, which the zoo said he likely contracted before arriving in B.C.

That left only Arun, who was at the time just over a year old.

He flew solo for several years at the Aldergrove conservation facility, until he was introduced to his first mate, Sakura, in March 2021. She joined the Greater Vancouver Zoo after six years at the Calgary Zoo. Sakura was born on Canada Day 2013 at the Granby Zoo in Quebec.

Red pandas usually breed from January through March, when the days start to get longer. Babies are born in the late spring. Arun and Sakura missed that window their first year together, but on June 14, 2022, Sakura gave birth to a pair of red panda cubs – one male and one female.

Maple and Mei Mei, as they were later named, were credited as being the first red pandas born in captivity in B.C.

The cubs were expected to stay at the Aldergrove zoo for at least one year – the amount of time they stay with their mothers in the wild. Turns out these twins stuck around a little longer.

But they have since moved on, confirmed the zoo’s animal care manager Brian Sheehan, sharing that he’s excited to see them taking on the next chapters in their lives.

“Our red panda cubs have reached the age of maturity, they are now ready to move on to finding a partner and continuing on their important conservation journey,” he shared, noting that Maple moved on to the Zoo de Granby in Quebec, while Mei Mei is settling into her new home at the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg, where her father came from.

“I’ve had the opportunity over my career to spend time and interact with many amazing animals. But probably the most important and most critical species I’ve been able to work with have been the red pandas here at the zoo,” Sheehan said.

With Paprika’s arrival this month, it left many local animal lovers looking for details on Arun’s previous mate and offspring, who departed quietly near the end of last year. Sakura has since been moved to the Toronto zoo.

Sharing sentiments from the entire crew at the zoo, Sheehan said: “Maple and Mei Mei, we’re going to miss you and we’re very proud of you, and we look forward to hearing all those amazing stories from your new homes.”

In the meantime, following the introduction of Arun and Paprika earlier this month, zoo keepers are now hopeful to see some more babies frolicking in the enclosure later this spring.

Of note, these endangered red panda is not closely related to the giant panda. In fact, it is not even a panda at all.

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Roxanne Hooper

About the Author: Roxanne Hooper

I began in the news industry at age 15, but honestly, I knew I wanted to be a community journalist even before that.
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