Meet Latin America’s Red Pandas

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A red panda looks on inside its enclosure after arriving from Japan as part of a worldwide conservation project of this animal in danger of extinction at the Buin Zoo in Buin, Santiago, Chile December 3, 2020. PHOTO BY IVAN ALVARADO /REUTERS

SANTIAGO, Chile, Fri. Dec 4, 2020 (Reuters) – Latin America is now home to two Red Pandas.

A Chilean zoo introduced two endangered red pandas, called Ichiha and Popo, to the public on Thursday in Santiago, where the animals are housed as part of a conservation project.

Although the pandas arrived in March from the Nifrel zoo in Osaka, Japan, they had not been introduced to the public until now because of the pandemic-related lockdown.

“My nephew loves them,” said zoo visitor Paula Cerda. “I hadn’t known about them before and I learned about them because of him. It’s amazing to see them in person.”

The six-year-old pair of red pandas – who are much smaller than giant pandas and have bushy, stripy tails – are at full reproductive age, increasing hopes of offspring that will help maintain their species.

The Buin Zoo built two enclosures to meet their requirements, such as the need for indoor and outdoor space with temperature controls. The pandas are very sensitive to heat.

“This is a species that is seriously endangered in nature,” said zoo manager Ignacio Idalsoaga. “We envision at some point being part of an international project to reproduce a species that in 30 years will disappear from the wild. That’s our commitment.”

(Reporting by Jorge Vega; Writing by Diane Craft; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)