From the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo:
She’s strong and she’s beautiful, and now the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo’s six-week-old red panda cub has a name to match.
Zoo keepers have bestowed the name “Maliha” on the little female cub – a name that means “strong and beautiful” in a Nepalese language.
Born on June 9, Maliha is the first of four red panda cubs born at the zoo in the last three years to survive longer than two weeks. About half of all red panda cubs die within 30 days of birth.
Red pandas are an endangered species.
Zoo Keeper Helena Lacey, who works with the red pandas daily, chose the baby’s name to reflect her wild heritage – red pandas are native to Nepal and China – and to fit the cub’s personality.
“I also wanted her name to reflect the whole journey we’ve been on with our red pandas for the last three years,” she said. “Plus, she is a very strong cub, and beautiful too!”
Maliha still spends all her time in an air-conditioned nest box with her mother, five-year-old Xiao, but is gradually becoming more active, Lacey says. “Maliha rolls around, plays with her feet, and stays awake more,” Lacey says. “She tries to walk, but her feet still slide out from under her.”
Red panda cubs typically remain in the nest box for about three months. This means that zoo guests have little chance of seeing the cub until late August or early September. Zoo keepers monitor Xiao and Maliha via a remote camera mounted in the nest box.
Though Maliha is thriving, she still faces other hurdles. “Weaning is a critical time for red panda cubs as they make the transition from mother’s milk to solid food,” explains Lacey. Weaning occurs when the cub is five to six months old.
The path to the red panda exhibit remains closed to zoo guests in an effort to minimize disturbances for the new family. Guests can sometimes see Junjie, the cub’s father, lounging on branches in the exhibit.
Maliha is weighed regularly to ensure that she is receiving appropriate maternal care. She has nearly quadrupled her birth weight of 139 grams and now weighs 545 grams (about 1.25 pounds).
The breeding of red pandas is overseen by the Species Survival Plan (SSP), a program of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA). The goal of the SSP is to maximize genetic diversity in zoo-dwelling populations of endangered and threatened animals.
Red pandas are native to the forested foothills of the Himalaya Mountains in China and Nepal, where they feed primarily on bamboo. They are classified as “Vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Though red pandas share a name with the famed black-and-white giant pandas, the two are not closely related. The name “panda” comes from the Nepalese word ponya, which means “bamboo-eater.”