Sunday 18 February 2018

Wildlife Park is looking for your help to name its cutest new arrival

Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

Fota Wildlife Park has launched a national campaign to help name its cutest new arrival, a tiny Red Panda cub.

The baby, a male, was born in late June but has been kept in a quiet location with his mother, Bonnie, and father, Pete, until he gained strength.

The baby was born after a gestation period of 19 weeks and his arrival is a landmark day for Fota and its panda conservation programme.

The east Cork wildlife park already ranks as one of the most important breeding centres in the world for endangered species.

Fota is now ranked as one of the world’s top facilities for the breeding of cheetahs, giraffes, bison and now pandas.

It has also celebrated soaring visitor numbers this year thanks to a €6m-plus new Asian Sanctuary which has seen the park, for the first time, get big cats in the shape of Sumatran Tigers and Asian Lions as well as rhino.

“The birth of the Red Panda cub is important in terms of conservation, as this species is officially classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as endangered,” head warden Kelly Lambe said.

“The park actively contributes to the care and breeding of many endangered species such as the Sumatran Tiger and the Asiatic Lion.”

“We are delighted to see this cub emerging from the nesting box, where he has been successfully cared for by his mom Bonnie over the past four months. The mother will typically continue to look after her cub for up to a year.”

There are now fewer than 2,500 mature Red Pandas in the wild.

Their population collapse has been blamed on a loss of habitat due to the cutting of bamboo forests and steady encroachment by humans and domesticated animals.

Red Pandas have established themselves as one of Fota’s most popular attractions though the creatures can be shy.

The species is, fact, more closely related to the Racoon rather than the Giant Panda.The Red Panda is often referred to as the Firefox or Lesser Panda and is up to 120cm in length, including an impressive tail of up to 60cm long.

It has long, soft reddish-brown fur with black and white markings as well as piercing black eyes, and the female is slightly smaller than the male.

Fota has now asked anyone who has a suitable name for the baby panda to enter it on the park’s website

The winner of the best name will win a park membership.

The closing date for entries is November 11.

More than 50pc of Fota's visitors are now tourists with the park helping deliver a €150m annual boost to the local economy.

A total of €10m has been invested by Fota in a major expansion of its facilities and animal attractions since 2010.

Phase one of the expansion delivered a 20pc hike in visitor numbers in 2014.

Fota is now the top tourist attraction in the south-west.

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