It was a night for the history books in Oklahoma City. On June 6, 2012, thousands of ecstatic fans celebrated as the Oklahoma City Thunder won its first Western Conference Championship … all while Oklahoma City Zoo staffers quietly witnessed the eleventh red panda birth in the Zoo’s history. Mother Jaya delivered her first cub since coming to the Zoo at the end of last year. The birth is the ninth cub at the Zoo for the father, Yoda. The new female cub has been named KayDee in honor of Oklahoma City Thunder player, Kevin Durant, commonly known by fans as K.D.
“We’ve been eager to introduce KayDee to the public since June,” said Chrislyn Newton, zoo keeper. “But she needed time to bond with her mother, Jaya, and grow a little bit before we made the announcement.”
After a four-and-a-half month gestation period, KayDee weighed less than a pound at birth and was properly cared for by her mother.
“We never had to intervene,” said Newton. “We’ve developed trust with Jaya and, although very watchful, she allows us to help her cub if needed. We check KayDee’s weight and body condition regularly and ensure her mother is producing enough milk.”
Now at three months old and weighing approximately four pounds, KayDee is transitioning from nursing to eating solid foods, and chewing bamboo like her parents.
“Shortly, she’ll be able to eat high-fiber nutritional biscuits, apples, pears, grapes and various enrichment foods,” said Newton.
KayDee usually leaves her nest early in the morning and later in the evening to play.
“I love that she snorts and bounces and is rambunctious,” said Newton.
Guests may see KayDee, Jaya and Yoda in their habitat across from the Zoo’s Endangered Species Carousel. But be patient as the young cub is still learning to navigate her surroundings and may choose to stay inside at times.
The successful birth of the red panda is part of the Species Survival Plan® (SSP) Program. The program was developed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) as a cooperative effort among AZA-accredited zoos throughout North America to help promote genetic diversity through species management. The red panda is listed as a vulnerable species because only an estimated 10,000 remain in the wild, and their habitats in remote areas of the Himalayan Mountains from Nepal to Southern China are being threatened by deforestation, agriculture, cattle grazing and competition for resources.
Although the word “panda” brings to mind the popular black-and-white giant panda species, red pandas are in a family all their own. While giant pandas are in the bear family, red pandas have not yet been formally classified into a specific mammal group. Theories suggest such relatives as raccoons or skunks.
Contributing writer: Carrie Allen, Oklahoma City Zoo