Pandamonium!

When the zoo started having volunteers do “bench talks” a few years ago — armed with skull replicas or the preserved pelts of animals whose lives ended naturally — the red panda became my first favorite bench talk to do. Even snoozing on a tree branch, as they usually are, these nocturnal creatures are visitor magnets, and the chance to “pet” a furry pelt while learning a few panda facts just amps up the interest for most visitors. And during the midday hour I spent on the Tropics Trail last week, the red panda on exhibit was emphatically not snoozing.

I’m not sure what made this guy (I’m pretty sure he’s a guy) so active on this particular day, but ironically, zoo staffers had recently built him a “chair,” or basket, for lounging. To me, it looks just like an oversized bird nest, shown here with the panda’s ringed, raccoonlike tail draped either behind or inside it. He curled up in the “chair” periodically but stayed mostly on the move as I watched him, trying to balance my bench-talk duties with the urge to catch this rare burst of activity on camera.

Here’s the older female, who was off exhibit Thursday, snoozing a few weeks ago. Note the darker rings on her tail, compared to the whiter rings of the tree-scaling fellow on the right. Several observers on Thursday compared him to a cat; others, even more appropriately, likened him to a fox. In fact, the Chinese name for these China-dwelling animals is “hundo,” which translates to “firefox.” Despite their English-language name, the link to giant pandas is actually fairly shaky: residence in China, a fondness for bamboo, an enlarged wristbone that serves as an opposable thumb. Scientifically, the amazing cuteness probably doesn’t count as a link between black-and-white pandas and the red ones, but I still think it’s worth mentioning.

Advertisements