What happens when Red Pandas share their enclosure?

In many zoos, Red Pandas are kept together with other species. In North America and Europe often with Muntjacs, the combination with Tufted Deer is also becoming increasingly popular. The experiences gained in the course of these “socializations” are highly varied: While the Red Pandas mostly live in peaceful coexistence with their co-inhabitants, cases have also been documented in which they were attacked — or behaved aggressively themselves and killed their fawns.

Photos: Red Panda by Red Pandazine; Muntjac: gailhampshire from Cradley, Malvern, U.K, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Each animal species has its own way of life. According to Krisztián Svábik, Team Leader in Toni’s Zoo (Switzerland) and former Deputy Curator at Budapest Zoo, different lifestyles can be quite helpful when two or more animal species are combined in one enclosure. In the case of Red Pandas, their lifestyle differs depending on whether they live in the wild or in a zoo.

“Many of the recent studies have shown that Red Pandas in the wild are more active during daytime than at night, although previously they were thought to be most active at dawn, dusk and at night“, Svábik says. “Most of the captive individuals are nocturnal and crepuscular, and exhibit a polyphasic activity during the night.“ This means that sleeping and active phases alternate.

Red Pandas are also excellent climbers and have an arboreal lifestyle, which means that they are specialized for life in trees. “So, associating them with ground-dwelling animals or daytime active species — or with both of them — seems to be a good combination”, Svábik emphasizes. These reasons support combining Red Pandas with animal species such as Muntjacs, Tufted Deer, and Asian Small-clawed Otters. If they are socialized with more than one animal species, they are often joined by various bird species such as Cranes, but also Cassowaries, Ducks, Swans, Eared-Pheasants and Songbirds. These multi-species exhibits can be found at Parc Zoologique et Botanique de Mulhouse (France), Tierpark Görlitz (Germany), Bioparc Fuengirola (Spain) and Avifauna Bird Park (The Netherlands), among others.

“In the line with current husbandry trends, it is becoming even more and more common to keep Red Pandas together with other species.”

— Krisztián Svábik, Team Leader in Toni’s Zoo (Switzerland)

More and more common

According to the Zoological Information Management System (ZIMS), 327 zoos around the world keep Red Pandas. The actual number may be higher, as not all zoos report to this database. Until now, a bit more than 50 examples of coexistence have been recorded with the species, but it is important to note that this is the number of the collected mixed exhibits and not the number of institutions, and that these data include both historic and current combinations and mixes. “Exact figures are not available, but overall it can be said that zoos primarily exhibit their Pandas in their own enclosures, but in the line with current husbandry trends, it is becoming even more and more common to keep them together with other species“, Svábik says.

Hostile neighbors

Coexistence between the species does not always go smoothly. Especially when socializing with Muntjacs, there are some things to consider. According to the recommendations of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) they should only share the enclosure with the Red Pandas during the day. Overnight Muntjacs are separated. Red Pandas, on the other hand, must be allowed a certain period of acclimation. “It needs a nice slow-intro, then non-breeders seem to do fine”, Svábik explains.

During the mating season, however, the picture can be quite different.

A drastic example was documented at Tiergarten Nürnberg (Germany). Red Pandas and Muntjacs lived there together in a 585 m2 enclosure. The Muntjacs, which were habituated to the shared home, appeared to be more dominant over the Red Pandas and also to displace them. “After the Muntjacs successful reared their offspring several times in presence of Red Pandas, the fourth (2000) and the sixth infant (2001) was killed and partly devoured by a Panda in the outdoor enclosure”, Svábik describes. “A third victim was lightly wounded”.

For this reason, pregnant Muntjacs are separated from Red Pandas before giving birth. One to two weeks after birth, the Muntjac fawns are out of danger.

However, aggressive behavior is also possible in the other way round. At Tiergarten Nürnberg, cohabitation of Red Pandas and Muntjacs ended after a male Muntjac killed two Red Pandas by slitting their bellies with his hoof. The Red Pandas in turn killed and ate four Muntjacs that were only one to three days old.

Good neighbors

Besides these negative examples, however, there are many zoos where coexistence works. According to a study completed in 2002, the Tierpark Görlitz has successfully combined Red Pandas and Muntjacs in one enclosure. And a curator at Minnesota Zoological Gardens told Krisztián Svábik, that mixing Red Pandas with slightly larger ungulates like Chinese Goral and Urial is going quite well as the species mostly ignore each other.

Read more

“Mixed-species exhibits with Raccoons (Procyonidae) and Red Panda (Ailuridae)” by Krisztián Svábik can be found on the zoorope.hu website. This and his other papers on socialization are also available for download on ZooLex.