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Where EAST meets the Northwest

MOVE TO MONTANA. Last summer, during a year when smiles were in high demand, Mei Mei, a red panda at the Oregon Zoo, gave birth to a tiny cub who would later be named Pabu (pictured). Now a handsome — and still somewhat rambunctious — young adult, Pabu will soon be moving with Mei Mei to a new home at ZooMontana in Billings. Pabu’s father, Moshu, will remain in Portland. (Photos courtesy of the Oregon Zoo)

From The Asian Reporter, V31, #3 (March 1, 2021), page 11.

Mei Mei and her "Prince of Pounce" are moving to Montana

Last summer, during a year when smiles were in high demand, Mei Mei, a red panda at the Oregon Zoo, gave birth to a tiny cub who would later be named Pabu.

Red panda cubs are born blind, their eyes only opening after a few weeks, and they don’t leave the maternity den for a few months. Pabu proved quite a handful once he did emerge. Nicknamed the "Prince of Pounce," the young red panda earned a reputation for surprising Mei Mei with playful ambushes.

Now a handsome — and still somewhat rambunctious — young adult, Pabu will soon be moving with Mei Mei to a new home at ZooMontana in Billings. The pair is expected to depart for "Big Sky Country" in early March. The last day to view them at the Oregon Zoo is Sunday, March 7.

"It’s been so much fun to watch Pabu grow, and to see the way Mei Mei has taken care of him," keeper Sara Morgan said. "The timing for this is right, but we’re really going to miss them."

The move is necessary, Morgan said, because little Pabu is growing up.

"Wild red pandas are solitary except during breeding season, and the males are territorial," she explained. "Pabu’s getting too old to stay with his dad now, but he’s still too young to venture off without mom."

Pabu’s father, Moshu, will remain in Portland and enjoy his "alone time," Morgan said.

While it’s hard to see Pabu and Mei Mei go, keepers are happy the pair will have a good home at ZooMontana. Their new habitat, nestled among the zoo’s many large cottonwood trees, features two yards with lots of climbing opportunities.

"The staff at ZooMontana have a lot of experience caring for this species," Morgan said. "Last year, they had to say goodbye to their beloved 22-year-old Taylor, who was believed to be the oldest red panda in the world. I’m sure Pabu’s youthful energy will keep them on their toes."

Over time, ZooMontana keepers hope to periodically introduce Mei Mei and Pabu to their resident red panda, Duli.

Mei Mei and Pabu’s move is taking place on a recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Species Survival Plan for red pandas — a cooperative program that helps maintain a genetically diverse, self-sustaining population to guarantee the long-term future of the animals.

Red pandas are considered an endangered species, with populations declining by about 50% in the past 20 years. While exact numbers are uncertain, some estimates indicate as few as 2,500 may be left in the wild. In addition to habitat loss and fragmentation, red pandas also face threats from poaching and the illegal wildlife trade.

"Fifty years ago, red pandas had healthy populations throughout the eastern Himalayas," Amy Cutting, who oversees the Oregon Zoo’s red panda area, said last year. "But they’ve been disappearing at alarming rates."

Though they share part of their name with giant pandas, red pandas are in a class all by themselves: The sharp-toothed, ring-tailed omnivores are the only members of the Ailuridae family. Found in the montane forests of the Himalayas and major mountain ranges of southwestern China, their striking red, white, and black fur provides camouflage in the shadowed nooks of the trees amongst reddish moss and white lichens.

Mei Mei and Moshu had previously been parents together. The pair — who both came to Oregon in 2019 on a recommendation from the AZA’s Species Survival Plan — also produced two cubs at the Nashville Zoo in 2017.

To learn more, schedule a visit, or to support the zoo with a donation, go to <www.oregonzoo.org>.

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