Wildlife Care staff will continue to monitor Paprika. So far she is doing well and adjusting to not having Dash with her.
Dash will be incredibly missed by Toronto Zoo staff, volunteers, our amazing community, and especially by his Wildlife Care team who had the honour of caring for him each day.
This incredible loss certainly underscores the fragility of cubs, even months after their birth and as they move from juveniles to adulthood.
The work we do with animals, especially endangered species, is incredibly rewarding and very challenging. Red pandas are a very complicated species and for several decades your Toronto Zoo did not have success with breeding them. For the past 10 years, our Reproductive Sciences team has been studying pregnancy related hormone changes to better understand the lack of breeding success to improve the species odds of survival.
Through this research we have learned that our females displayed appropriate breeding behaviour and ovulated successfully every breeding season. Despite this, the majority of attempts resulted in no live cubs. To determine whether the lack of cubs was due to a loss around the time of parturition (e.g. stillbirths, infanticide), we investigated the production of prostaglandin (hormone necessary for initiating the birthing process) and were the first to identify a prostaglandin peak 1-2 days before birth only in females that ended up with live cubs but not in those without live cubs. These data confirmed that bred females unable to produce living cubs were not losing them at birth, but perhaps not becoming pregnant or undergoing early pregnancy loss. The results of our findings will soon be submitted for publication in a scientific journal and will add to the literature on the complicated reproductive biology of red pandas.
Red pandas are a difficult-to-breed species due to pre- and post-partum challenges with offspring survival. Evidence is showing a high percentage of early pregnancy loss in this species compared to others, with 40% of pregnancies being lost prior to birth as shown in a recent 10-year study by colleagues at Cincinnati Zoo. Similar losses are recorded after birth with approximately 40% of cubs dying within 1 year of birth. These low survival rates have a significant impact on the growth of the red panda population under human care. Wild red panda cubs face similar mortality rates due to their vulnerable state at birth and the on-going anthropogenic pressures.
We are grateful to have such dedicated staff, who continue to provide excellent care to our animals amidst the heartache of this sudden loss.