Are they bears or raccoons? Actually they are neither. It depends on who you talk to, but there is no doubt the pair of endangered red pandas that arrived at the Blank Park Zoo is so cute they could give Shawn Johnson a run for her spot on People Magazine’s most beautiful list. They have made their home in Iowa and are ready for the “oohs” and “ahhs” of guests.

This exhibit marks the first of many projects of the Blank Park Zoo’s $40 million capital campaign. A ground-breaking ceremony for an outdoor red panda exhibit was held today and should be completed by mid-summer. Zoo guests will be able to see the red pandas now in their indoor exhibit.

“With the addition of the red pandas, the golden-headed tamarins and the Birdman of Las Vegas, this summer is going to be spectacular at the Blank Park Zoo,” said Michael Hubbell, Interim CEO of the Blank Park Zoo.

“Parents and children will easily fall in love with these animals,” said Chad Comer, Animal Curator. “Not only will the Zoo exhibit a great animal, but we are participating in the Species Survival Plan to ensure they will be around for future generations.”

The red pandas are funded in part by a gift from the W.T. & Edna M. Dahl Trust.

Other major Blank Park Zoo Expansion gifts include:

City of Des Moines
William and Susan Knapp
Elizabeth Kruidenier
Jim and Helen Hubbell
Meredith Corporation Foundation
Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines
Blank Family Foundation
Bob and Gloria Burnett
Prairie Meadows
Stan and Dotty Thurston
Tim and Toni Urban

Funds are still being raised for the remaining Blank Park Zoo expansion projects.

Facts about the Red Panda:

Cane, the male red panda, was born at the Knoxville Zoo in Tennessee. His birth date is
June 20, 2002. He was hand raised by the staff in Knoxville.

Kitar, the female red panda, was born Dec 8, 1999 at the Wellington Zoo Trust in New Zealand. She arrived in Knoxville in 2007 and she was raised by her parents.

Unlike the Giant Pandas, they are not a bear. Instead, they are their own independent family called Alivridae.. Many think they are related to the raccoon or family of Procyonidae, but this is based on superficial similarities and is incorrect. There are believed to be less than 2500 mature adults in existence today. They have already become extinct in 4 of the 7 Chinese provinces. The major threats to red pandas are loss and fragmentation of habitat due to deforestation (and the resulting loss of bamboo) for timber, fuel and agricultural land; poaching for the pet and fur trades; and competition from domestic livestock.

In the wild they live in conifer and deciduous forests of the Himalayas and other mountain ranges of Southwest China.

The red panda eats mostly bamboo. Like the Giant Panda, it cannot digest cellulose, so it must consume a large volume of bamboo to survive. Its diet consists of about two-thirds bamboo, but they also eat berries, fruit, mushrooms, roots, acorns, lichen, grasses, and they are known to supplement their diet with young birds, fish, eggs, small rodents, and insects on occasion. In captivity they will readily eat meat. Red pandas are excellent climbers and forage largely in trees.

Red pandas typically give birth to two cubs. Gestation for red pandas is just over four months, roughly 134 days. The life span of a Red Panda is 15 to 18 years.

Red pandas have heat, but no cold limitations. Zoo officials indicated the Iowa zoo is ideal for the creatures because they will have access to air conditioning indoors when it is to hot for them to be in an outdoor exhibit.

The Blank Park Zoo, Iowa’s WILDEST Adventure, is open everyday 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Admission is $9.95 for adults, $4.95 for children under 12, and $7.95 for seniors and active military. The Zoo is located at 7401 SW 9th St., Des Moines, IA 50315. Visit the Zoo online at . The Zoo is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) The AZA is America’s leading accrediting organization that sets rigorous, professional standards for zoos and aquariums. The AZA is building North America's largest wildlife conservation movement by engaging and inspiring the 143 million annual visitors to its member institutions and their communities to care about and take action to help protect wildlife.