Wednesday 23 October 2019

‘Cheeky’ escapee red panda saw chance to explore, says Belfast zookeeper

Amber took her chance of freedom when two electric fences failed at Belfast Zoo on Sunday afternoon.

By Michael McHugh and Alexander Britton, Press Association

An escapee red panda recaptured on a Belfast driveway is a cheeky explorer, her relieved zookeeper has admitted.

When two electric fences failed at Belfast Zoo on Sunday afternoon, endangered Himalayan native cub Amber took her chance of freedom.

Amber is one of two cubs born last year – her sister is called Autumn.

Amber is that bit cheekier and I think that is what happened, the electric fence went off and she saw a chance to explore further Alyn Cairns

Zoo manager Alyn Cairns armed himself with a bunch of bananas – plus a net and box – to halt the animal’s progress outside a house around a mile from the enclosure on Monday.

He said: “Amber is the cheekiest of the two, she has quite a personality, quite a cheeky personality, quite robust, quite willing to explore things, whereas Autumn is much shyer and she is quite happy to sit up in the trees.

“Amber is that bit cheekier and I think that is what happened, the electric fence went off and she saw a chance to explore further.”

She has been pronounced uninjured by a vet and was initially put in a secluded spot in the zoo before being returned to the panda enclosure.

Red pandas come from the Himalaya region and the zoo attempts to recreate that mountainous environment with tall trees, which they spend a lot of time in.

Mr Cairns added: “We try to give them more room, more open plan, and electric fences allow us to do that.

“It is actually two electric fences in the panda enclosure and both of them unfortunately failed on us.

“We don’t really want to keep animals in the old-style cages and this is why we have this lovely habitat for red pandas.

“We will learn from this and we will look at whether we need to add further measures to the panda enclosure.”

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the red panda faces a very high risk of extinction due to habitat loss and illegal hunting.

Mr Cairns said he knew from the topography of the land which direction Amber would have ventured, towards a local residential area, where someone indeed spotted her.

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🚨WE ARE CELEBRATING THE BIRTH OF ENDANGERED RED PANDA CUBS!🚨 The pair were born to parents, Chris and Vixen on 19 June 2018. Red panda cubs are born blind and develop quite slowly. They therefore spend the first few months in the den. It is for this reason that, despite being born back in June, the twins have only recently started to venture outside. Red panda are native to the Himalayas in Bhutan, Southern China, Pakistan, India, Laos, Nepal and Burma. However, red panda numbers are declining dramatically due to habitat loss and illegal hunting for their fur, in particular their long bushy tail which is highly prized as a good luck charm for Chinese newlyweds. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature believes that the red panda is facing a very high risk of extinction. Find out more about our colourful new arrivals on our website! #belfastzoo #zoo #ourzoo #thezoo #belfast #northernireland #animal #animals #wildlife #redpanda #conservation #endangered #animalbabies #babyanimals #twins #twinning

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The zookeeper added: “I am absolutely delighted, we don’t want any harm to come to any of our animals and I am delighted to get her back.

“It is more important because red pandas are so endangered, and these two cubs as part of the breeding programme are actually going to meet male pandas, boyfriends, in Sweden and Germany… as part of the breeding programme.

“Red pandas in the wild have really crashed so it is important that we do breed them.”

The panda was first sighted at around 5.30pm on Sunday and the search had continued into Monday.

Red pandas are mainly active from dusk to dawn and often sleep in high trees during the day.

They have a distinctive red fur and long bushy tail, and are slightly larger than a domestic cat.

They feed mainly on bamboo but also fruit, eggs, small birds and insects.

Belfast Zoo is home to four red pandas.

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