An exchange of red pandas between the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park at Darjeeling and zoos in Australia and New Zealand is on the cards. Red pandas are found in dense thickets that include bamboo in the higher altitude forests of Nepal, India, Bhutan and southern China

An exchange of red pandas between the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park at Darjeeling and zoos in Australia and New Zealand is on the cards, to improve the bloodline of the arboreal animals in the Darjeeling zoo’s captive breeding programme.

“The plans are still in the proposal stage, but we want to exchange two male red pandas with an animal each from the Auckland zoo in New Zealand and the Adelaide zoo in Australia,” zoo director A.K. Jha told The Hindu over telephone from Darjeeling.

Started in 1990, the captive breeding programme for red pandas, described as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), is one of the most successful conservation initiatives of the Darjeeling zoo, which was home to 14 of them, Mr. Jha said.

The zoo, along with its subsidiary facility at the Sikkim Himalayan Zoological Park in Gangtok, claims to be the only conservation breeding programme for the animal in its natural distribution zone.

Red pandas are found in dense thickets that include bamboo in the higher altitude forests of Nepal, India, Bhutan and southern China.

The first successful (planned) breeding of the animals occurred in 1994, when Ekta and Friend were born to Basant and Amita, which were part of the zoo’s original stock.

“About 55 births have taken place in the zoo since the project started and we have also been able to release four red pandas at the Singalila National Park in Darjeeling,” he added.

In 1990, the zoo had only four red pandas (one male and three female), all of wild origin. To augment the stock, animals from the Netherlands, Spain and Belgium arrived over the years.

While the IUCN lists habitat destruction and poaching as one of the main threats to the species in the wild, inbreeding depression has also raised concerns.