Red Panda Makes His Zoo Debut

Wyatt makes his public debut this weekend at John Ball Zoo.
Wyatt makes his public debut this weekend at John Ball Zoo.

Photo courtesy of John Ball Zoo.

The zoo’s newest (and possibly cutest) resident makes his debut this weekend.

Wyatt, a 5-year-old red panda, came to John Ball Zoo last month from the Chattanooga Zoo in Tennessee. Over the past 40 days, he’s been in quarantine and waiting for construction to conclude on his new home.

On Saturday, he will be introduced to the public for the first time, beginning at 9 a.m. when the zoo opens.

Earlier this week, Wyatt moved into his new digs and he’s been exploring the space for the last couple of days. “He is a pretty spectacular animal. I think he is going to draw a crowd,” said Marcus Zevalkink, general curator at John Ball Zoo. “Because this is a unique space for him, he’s really interested in navigating and exploring. That creates a great opportunity for guests.”

Wyatt getting acclimated to his new space at John Ball Zoo.
Wyatt getting acclimated to his new space at John Ball Zoo.

Wyatt is located in the zoo’s Forest Realm area at the top of the waterfall. His new home includes an outdoor enclosure with indoor access for when he wants to be alone.

“He has access to inside and outside,” Zevalkink said. “So, we know he is choosing the space he is spending his time in.”

Red pandas come from temperate climates of the Himalayan mountain forests. Their preferred temperature is between 50 and 77 degrees.

The zoo said Michigan’s summer weather is warm for this species, so Wyatt’s indoor quarters have air conditioning and the climbing structures within his habitat have cool water running through them.

Zevalkink said introducing Wyatt to his new environment has been a gradual process, and over the weekend, the zoo will keep a close eye on how he is reacting to the crowds of visitors coming to see him to ensure his well-being.

“Our goal is to slowly acclimate him to the environment,” he said. “We want to make sure his experience when he comes outside is a positive one, so we are cautious not to introduce him to large crowds, loud noises, construction or anything like that.”

Zevalkink said the zoo typically sees around 6,000 visitors on a busy Saturday, and he expects this weekend could see a surge of another 1,000 to 2,000 guests eager to see Wyatt.

Red pandas primarily are a solitary species and, for now, Wyatt will live alone, but Zevalkink said there is a possibility the zoo eventually could acquire a female red panda.

“This is a very large exhibit for red pandas, so we certainly have the space,” he said. “Movement of the animals is driven by the Species Survival Plan (an organization focused on ensuring the survival of selected species in zoos and aquariums), so they would have to make a recommendation for us to receive a female.”

Zevalkink said adult male red pandas do not get along, so a female panda would be the only option. That also would mean the possibility of baby red pandas down the road.

“If there was a young family, they could be together for a period of time, but they would eventually have to be separated, as well unless you built additional enclosures and separated them that way,” Zevalkink said.

Red Pandas are an endangered species, with less than 10,000 living in the wild. The red panda population has declined by over 50 percent due to habitat loss, poaching and the pet trade. As the red panda declines in the wild, growing and maintaining self-sustaining populations in the zoos is a high priority against extinction.

The typical red panda weighs approximately eight to 14 pounds. They live eight to 10 years in the wild and 13 to 15 years in captivity.

John Ball Zoo is open daily through Dec. 2.

Enjoy this video of Wyatt enjoying a snack in his new home. Bamboo constitutes 85-95 percent of the red panda’s diet. They also eat berries, blossoms, eggs, and occasionally birds and small vertebrates.

*Main photo courtesy of John Ball Zoo

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