Lounging on a tree branch and surrounded by bamboo, the first of two red pandas that will be on exhibit at the Reid Park Zoo made her appearance Thursday in front of a small crowd of donors.
The red panda, named Princess Lily, came from the Miller Park Zoo in Bloomington, Illinois, and will be joined in a few weeks by a male companion, zoo officials said.
The exhibit opens to the public Saturday and will run through the spring, before the red pandas move on to their final destination in Utah.
Since this is the first time red pandas have been in Arizona, zoo director Jason Jacobs anticipates that visitors will come from other parts of the state and drive up from Nogales to see the red pandas.
“The community is so excited about having them,” Jacobs said.
In June, Jacobs began talking to the Species Survival Plan, an organization that helps to ensure the survival of endangered species, to see if any red pandas needed a home for the winter.
Jacobs said that while he wasn’t even sure it would be possible to get the one red panda he requested, at the end of August, the SSP reached out to see if the zoo could take in two.
While Princess Lily and her companion are in Tucson, the zoo will be raising awareness and funds to help keep red pandas in the wild, Jacobs said.
The zoo has already donated $7,500 to the Red Panda Network and teen volunteers have already raised another $1,000 by selling glow necklaces over three nights, Jacobs said.
“Maybe guests will make a difference and make a donation,” he said. “It’s always amazing to see the philanthropic hearts of people in Tucson.”
The zoo worked closely with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to bring the red pandas here and the funding for the temporary exhibit was made possible by the Tucson Parks Foundation.
Seven-year-old Princess Lily arrived at the zoo earlier this week, and zoo spokeswoman Candis Martin said she’s settling in quite well.
“She came from a much quieter zoo where there were no lions, so she was a little nervous at first,” Martin said.
Red pandas, which aren’t related to giant pandas, are native to forests in the foothills of the Himalayas and primarily eat bamboo, according to information provided by the zoo.
There are fewer than 10,000 left in the wild, and the major threat they face is habitat destruction from cattle grazing.
Red pandas average 3ƒ feet in length and weigh about 11 pounds.
As donors snapped pictures and intently watched Princess Lily, she climbed down the tree and made a lap around the exhibit before returning to her branch.
She stretched her long body across it, her black legs dangling over the sides, as she turned her face back toward the crowd of smiling faces.