Surprise Baby Red Panda Born at Cincinnati Zoo

Lin the red panda gave birth to an unexpected new cub after miscarrying in May.

click to enlarge Tiny smol baby red panda - Photo: Provided by the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden
Photo: Provided by the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden
Tiny smol baby red panda

A sad situation has turned into a bit of tiny, unexpected joy at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden.

Red panda Lin has given birth to a new cub after miscarrying in May. The new baby arrived on July 16 and both are mama and cub are doing well, spending most of their time in the nest box. The zoo says although they both have access to the outdoor habitat, the baby most likely won't emerge for at least two more months.

“To my knowledge, Lin is the first documented case of a red panda losing her pregnancy and then having another embryo come along and implant in the same year,” said Dr. Erin Curry, reproductive physiologist at Cincinnati Zoo’s Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) department, in a release. “When ultrasounds revealed that she lost the pregnancy in May, there was no historical reason to keep doing ultrasounds this season.”

The zoo says red pandas are typically seasonal breeders, mating in winter and giving birth in summer. That means they have shorter windows of time during which they're able to get pregnant. Comparatively, the zoo says animals like rhinos and giraffes have year-round "estrous cycles" (kind of like human menstrual cycles). Red pandas can also experience pseudopregnancies, delayed implantation and more.

The zoo's CREW has spent years studying red panda reproduction and are able to predict cub birth dates. They achieve this by monitoring hormone levels and conducting regular ultrasounds, which is how they first found out Lin was pregnant in April. 

After she miscarried, there was no reason to think she could be pregnant again — until keepers noticed Lin was getting a little chunky. They assumed it was due to eating so many cicadas and mulberries. It wasn't.

“The most interesting part of this second pregnancy is that we don’t know if she had another embryo hanging out in diapause that somehow received the cue to implant after the first one was lost or if she possibly cycled back and bred again, although no breeding was observed," Curry said. “There is a possibility that this isn’t a total rarity; however, most zoos don’t perform regular ultrasounds on their pandas, so this has never been documented before."

The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists red pandas as an endangered species. The zoo's breeding program is conducted in accordance with the Red Panda Species Survival Plan; they also support pandas in the wild through the Red Panda Network.

Lin is a supermom and Michelle Curley, communications director for the zoo, tells CityBeat she's had 10 cubs. "She's had two at a time at least twice. She's a great mom," she says.

The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is located at 3400 Vine St., Avondale. Tickets and more info:

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