Wait for Baby Red Panda Begins

Brittany Levine
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, February 13, 2009; 12:58 PM

Their mating season about to end, the National Zoo's newest panda couple will soon begin the wait to learn whether or not they'll have a baby.

Tate, a male red panda who arrived from New Jersey's Cape May Zoo last month, met Shama, the Zoo's one-and-a-half year old female last Friday. Within seconds of meeting, zoo staffers say, they exhibited "breeding behavior."

This is the last week of Shama's ovulation cycle, according to zoo spokesman Sarah Taylor; once it ends, if the couple does not successfully conceive they must wait another year. "They're young and healthy and even if they do not conceive this year, we'll try again next year," said Taylor.

The results, meanwhile, won't be known for months. The Zoo will not know if Shama is pregnant until she gives birth -- or fails to -- at the end of four to six months.

Red pandas are endangered, so a birth for this pair would be significant for the Zoo. Three red panda cubs were recently born at the Zoo's research facility in Front Royal; the last time one was born on the main Zoo grounds was 1988.

The animals were also central to a string of bad publicity the Zoo received over animal deaths that raised questions about the quality of its animal care. Two red pandas died there in 2003 after eating rat poison that had been buried in their habitat, one of several incidents that contributed to the 2004 resignation of its former director.

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