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Panda procreation successful at Fargo zoo

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Panda procreation successful at Fargo zoo
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FARGO - Fargo's Red River Zoo announced Wednesday that one of its breeding pairs of endangered Chinese red pandas has produced twin cubs, a male and female.


Zoo Executive Director Paula Grimestad said the pandas were born June 10 and are thriving.

"We have panda babies!" she said.

The news was welcomed by the Species Survival Plan, based at the Cincinnati Zoo, Grimestad said. Only one Chinese red panda cub born in captivity survived last year. The Red River Zoo cubs are the first reported this year.

"This is the pair that we really wanted (to produce cubs)," Grimestad said. "They're a new bloodline and very valuable. The population in captivity is aging, and we really needed to bring in some young pandas. ... Every little bit helps."

The mother, Shan Tou, "has been great," lead panda keeper Marcy Thompson said. "She is a first-time mom. She's been very, very good. She's been very protective."

Thompson and Grimestad said the father, Yukiko, was introduced to the cubs without a problem, though the mother is protective and has at times chased him away.

The cubs were about 4 inches long and a quarter pound when born. They are now about 6 inches long and roughly a pound, though the female cub is noticeably bigger than the male, Thompson said. Their fur is a buff tan, and should start to turn the species' distinctive red when they are about a month old, she said.

The births should help cement the Fargo zoo's reputation for breeding the pandas, Grimestad said.

Hope remains that another breeding pair will still produce babies, Thompson said.

Jiao Mei and Rusty had been observed mating, Thompson said.

The last time the Red River Zoo had panda cubs was in 2002. Tsaka, a panda now at the National Zoo in Washington, also gave birth to twin cubs, Thompson said.

The cubs have not been named yet, Thompson said.

The Chinese red panda is endangered due to loss of habitat and poaching. Estimates vary widely, but scientists feel there may be as few as 2,500 mature Chinese red pandas in the world, making them rarer than the more famous giant panda, according to the Smithsonian National Zoological Park.

Thompson said a blog will be set up with notes from the keepers, photos and perhaps video in coming weeks on the zoo's Web site.