This is the story of Tink and Henry, two of ten red panda babies that were born at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in 2014. Both cubs had early health problems, prompting zoo keepers to take immediate action: around the clock medical support and hand-rearing. Henry especially struggled, and was on oxygen for a month after he had stopped breathing. Thankfully, with constant care, both cubs are now healthy and thriving.
Native to the cool, temperate forests high in the eastern Himalayas and south-western China, red pandas are tree dwelling mammals that eat a lot of bamboo in addition to fruit, acorns, roots, and eggs. Despite their bamboo-filled diet, name, and adorable eye patches, they are not related to Giant Pandas. From Scientific American:
…it wasn’t until the last ten or fifteen years that scientists settled upon just where red pandas fit on the evolutionary tree of life. It was clear that red pandas were members of the taxonomic “infraorder” Arctoidea, placing them in a group with bears, pinnipeds (seals, sea lions, and walrus), raccoons, and mustelids (weasels, skunks, otters, and badgers). Research published in 2000 in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution determined that they were not most closely related to bears or to raccoons as had been previously suggested. Instead, red pandas form their own phylogenetic family, alongside skunks, raccoons, and mustelids. From a genetic perspective, they’re more like the skunks and raccoons you might find in your own backyard than the giant pandas with whom they share habitats.
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