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 Keti, a 6-month-old female red panda cub, peers out from between two tree boughs in a 2,635-square-foot enclosure that she shares with 14-year-old female red panda Ta-Shi at the Detroit Zoo Jan. 23.

Keti, a 6-month-old female red panda cub, peers out from between two tree boughs in a 2,635-square-foot enclosure that she shares with 14-year-old female red panda Ta-Shi at the Detroit Zoo Jan. 23.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Red panda cub Keti makes her debut at Detroit Zoo

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published January 29, 2020

 Keti uses her paw, which has an extended wrist bone that functions like a thumb, to grasp and eat bamboo.

Keti uses her paw, which has an extended wrist bone that functions like a thumb, to grasp and eat bamboo.

Photo by Deb Jacques

 A zoo staff member bottle feeds Keti specialized formula in a small bottle with a nipple used for premature human babies during her first days.

A zoo staff member bottle feeds Keti specialized formula in a small bottle with a nipple used for premature human babies during her first days.

Photo provided by the Detroit Zoological Society

 Keti opened her eyes at approximately 1 month old.

Keti opened her eyes at approximately 1 month old.

Photo provided by the Detroit Zoological Society

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ROYAL OAK — Keti, a 6-month-old red panda cub born to parents Ash and Ravi at the Detroit Zoo, recently moved to a 2,635-square-foot public enclosure with Ta-Shi, a 14-year-old female red panda who has taken on the role of adoptive grandmother.

While red panda cubs have been born at the zoo before, Detroit Zoological Society Associate Curator of Mammals Betsie Meister said Keti was unique because it quickly became clear that zoo staff would have to hand-rear her.

“Ash is a first-time mom, and she was just new and inexperienced and needed a little help,” Meister said. “Ta-Shi is a really good companion for Keti because she can teach her everything about being a panda.”

Keti and Ta-Shi’s enclosure is adjacent to the recently expanded 14,000-square-foot Holtzman Wildlife Foundation Red Panda Forest, currently home to Ash and Ravi. Zoo officials anticipate that visitors will be able to see all four red pandas together in the state-of-the-art habitat in the spring.

“Being an only child, Keti is very rambunctious and loves to play and jump and run around,” Meister said. “Ta-Shi is very, very good at teaching her manners.”

The space where Keti and Ta-Shi currently reside used to house ring-tailed lemurs. While lemurs don’t like the cold, red pandas do — they are native to the Himalayas in Nepal and northern China. Keti means “girl” in Nepali.

“They can live in very, very harsh environments — very cold and wintry,” Meister said. “Every bit of their bodies is covered in fur, so they stay warm, and they like to wrap their tails around them to stay warm, like a little blanket.”

Keti was born July 6, after an approximately four-month gestation period, weighing 112 grams and covered in short, white hair. She required bottle feedings every eight to nine hours, and she first opened her eyes at approximately 1 month old.

“She was taken to our hospital and lived in an incubator, which we kept at about 90 degrees,” Meister said. “After she started growing, we started building her bigger areas to live in at the hospital. She had a playpen we built out of plexiglass, and she even had access to a little grassy yard area at the hospital.”

Zoo staff positioned tree branches and logs inside Keti’s pens so that she could begin learning how to climb, and she began to nibble bamboo at approximately 3 months old.

Meister said the red pandas’ diets are made up largely of bamboo, which the zoo grows in its greenhouse, as well as fresh and dried fruit, specially formulated red panda biscuits, and the occasional bird they catch in their habitats.

They make chirping noises, as well as a sound specific to red pandas called a “snort quack,” which is an alarm call. However, Meister said most of their communication is nonverbal and translated through body language.

“Now, (Keti is) about 9 pounds. Females usually grow to be around 10 to 12 pounds, so she’s almost full-grown, but at 6 months she still has some filling out to do,” she said. “Keti is very, very adept at climbing trees. (Red pandas) have very sharp claws, and they actually have kind of an opposable thumb to grasp bamboo.”

In the wild, red pandas make nests high in the trees and live most of their lives among the branches — they can live to be up to 15 years old. Meister said red pandas also have acute senses of sight, hearing and smell.

DZS Chief Life Sciences Officer Scott Carter said the red pandas are part of the Species Survival Plan, which makes breeding recommendations for animals in Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited institutions. Red pandas are listed as an endangered species.

“It’s still a bit early for recommendations (for the red pandas at the Detroit Zoo),” Carter said. “It’s been a lot of fun to watch (Keti) grow up. We say this about a lot of babies, including our own, but there’s nothing cuter than a baby, and she’s been pretty extraordinary.”

The Detroit Zoo is located at 8450 W. 10 Mile Road, west of Woodward Avenue.

For more information, call (248) 541-5717 or visit www.detroitzoo.org.

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