With International Red Panda Day coming up this weekend, the Assiniboine Park Conservancy is excited to welcome the public into the zoo for Red Panda Weekend.
From September 17 to 18, the Assiniboine Park Zoo is hosting a wide variety of activities to celebrate the exotic mammal and despite their similar names and appearance, red pandas are not related to giant pandas or even raccoons.
"Often they get mistaken for being related to the giant pandas or being related to raccoons because of their appearance, but red pandas are actually special because they are a really unique species," says Heather Penner, animal care professional at the Assiniboine Park Conservancy and one of the organizers of International Red Panda Day weekend. "They are actually the only living member within their family, and scientists discovered that through different DNA studies that they had done. So, they are a mammal, pretty small in size, about the size of an average domestic cat, and they are found only in Southeast Asia in five different countries, Nepal, China, India, Bhutan and Myanmar."
Penner reveals that dedicating a weekend to red pandas is important because the animal is classified as endangered with a rapidly declining population. Reasons for their endangerment include habitat loss and predation by humans.
"We do have red pandas at the zoo, that's where I first learned about them when I started working with them as a zookeeper and I just felt that it was really important to talk about them and spread that, you know, education, awareness about the species that are in danger. But also, red pandas are really important because they are also considered an indicator species."
When animals are an indicator species, Penner says that observing these species in their natural habitat provides scientists with information about the entire ecosystem that they live in. Which can help observers create plans to save the habitat and assist other animals living in that same ecosystem.
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With Red Panda Weekend at the zoo, professionals are hoping to educate the public about red pandas and their importance while making it enjoyable at the same time.
"So, things like we have a plinko activity, we have a dunk tank activity, which is new this year, which we're excited to try out. The idea is it's a little bit of a passport circuit where kids, even adults because it's fun for adults too, they travel to the different countries where you find red pandas. Each country represents an activity and then they try to complete their passport. There's also going t be face painting and then another really fun activity that's not really part of the passport circuit is a photo booth selfie station where we have different props and you can dress up like a red panda and get your picture taken."
To participate in Red Panda Weekend, all activities are included in general admission fees. Activities are on Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. For more information, visit the Assiniboine Park Conservancy website.