The Beardsley Zoo recently opened a new habitat for two red pandas, an endangered species.
The zoo is a member of the American Species Survival Plan, a nationwide association of zoos and aquariums working to help ensure the survival of certain endangered animals. The red pandas came to Connecticut from other U.S. zoos, but are native to the Himalayas and China. On a recent rainy day, crowds gathered to catch a glimpse of the pandas, who are named Meri and Rochan.
“Meri the female is smaller. She also has more white on her face,” said Emma Carney, an animal care specialist at the zoo. “And then Rochan, his face is very, very rounded; like a big bear looking face. He has a lot more dark facial markings, so that’s the easiest way to tell them apart.”
Carney said the new habitat was designed specifically for the pandas.
“There is an outside area [that is] very high. They can go up probably 20 feet -- that’s all mesh, so they can go along the outside all they want. We would prefer them to not climb on the mesh but pandas will be pandas.”
There’s also an air-conditioned inside space with climbing structures and an area for the pandas’ food - mostly bamboo, biscuits, and apples.
Meri and Rochan are much smaller than giant pandas. They’re just a little larger than domestic cats, with thick, reddish fur.
Carney says the zoo’s habitat allows visitors to see the animals without startling them, as they’re very shy. “Even though they will be visible and they’ll be able to see people, it’ll still be way less stressful because they have lots of place they can go,” she said. “If they wanna hide, they can hide.”
The hope is that one day Meri and Rochan will welcome new family members into their Bridgeport home.
The Beardsley Zoo has also received a grant to create a new enclosure for two Amur tiger cubs, who were born last year at the zoo. Amur tigers are another critically endangered species.