The birth of a rare Nepalese red panda baby, weighing not much more than a tomato, has thrilled Auckland Zoo keepers.
The keepers said that the birth of the cub, the first of its kind at the Zoo since 2002, in the early hours of Christmas Eve was the best present they could have received.
The panda, now four weeks old is the first offspring of three-year-old Bo, who arrived at Auckland Zoo in mid-2012, and 12-year-old Sagar.
The cub was an "extremely valuable addition to the international breeding programme for this threatened species", carnivore team leader, Bruce Murdock said.
The cub, whose sex is yet to be determined, weighed just 105 grams at birth and now weighs about 240 grams.
"We're absolutely stoked. This birth is a fantastic result, especially as Bo was only introduced to Sagar last August, and given female red pandas come into season just twice a year and a male has only a one to two-day window to mate a female," Murdock said.
He said Bo was doing an "an exceptional job, staying in the nest box for long periods and feeding her cub up to six times a day, and being very attentive".
Red pandas develop slowly and are dependent for at least three months, so keepers expect it could be another eight to 10 weeks before visitors see the cub venturing out of its nest box.
"We're keeping a regular watch on this cub, but taking a very hands-off approach so Bo can continue to do the great job she's doing, and we minimise any potential stress for her. Around late February will be a safe time for us to do a full vet check on the cub. We're not absolutely sure, but bets are on that we have a female," Murdock added.
As part of an international breeding programme Auckland Zoo sent female Khosuva to India's Darjeeling Zoo in 2010, where she was paired up with a male as part of Project Red Panda.
The plan was for Khosuva's offspring to be released into the wild in Nepal. In return, Sagar arrived at Auckland Zoo in 2010 from Darjeeling to breed.
- Auckland Now