Adorable zoo babies arrive in Front Royal

By Katie Demeria

A baby boom has hit Front Royal.

The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute has welcomed youngsters of various species over recent weeks. Some of those species are actually extinct in the wild, while others, such as the red panda, are considered vulnerable.

Two red pandas cubs recently joined the 11 adults that call the institute in Front Royal home, according to animal keeper Jessica Kordell.

“We have two that are being raised by mom really well right now, and we are waiting on a few more,” Kordell said.

Red pandas are vulnerable due to habitat loss, according to a Smithsonian news release.

“There are fewer than 10,000 adult red pandas left in the wild,” the release states.

Another new baby, a scimitar-horned oryx calf, is extinct in the wild, according to the release. The institute’s latest calf, though, marks the 164th addition to the species born there.

Black-footed ferrets were also considered extinct until 1980. Twenty-four more were just born in Front Royal, with 10 other mothers possibly giving birth soon as well.

Kordell said that red pandas are losing a great deal of their habitat when cattle farmers cut down the forested areas in which they live for grazing purposes. The pandas are also susceptible to some of the diseases the cattle carry, she said.

The institute’s two cubs are doing well, though their genders are, as of now, unknown.

“We try to stay hands off until it’s absolutely necessary, so we’ve just been observing them and monitoring their growth by visual checks,” Kordell said. “We want them to raise their babies on their own, to give them a chance to bond.”

Usually, she added, the keepers can tell when something is wrong and intervention is necessary.

The cubs’ mother, Yanhua, is doing very well right now, Kordell said.

The institute could have up to four mothers this year, she said. But it is hard to tell if the others are pregnant and if Yanhua’s cubs will be joined by more.

Red pandas have a tendency to go through a “pseudo pregnancy,” Kordell said.

“They do everything like they’re actually pregnant, even gain weight,” she said.

Keepers were only able to confirm that one other panda, Regan, was actually pregnant. She is very food motivated, Kordell said, and was used to certain workers, so they could do an ultrasound with her.

Only time will tell, though, if the others are pregnant.

Kordell described the breeding process for the pandas as a sort of a for pandas, based on genetic data. They are paired up based on their genetic compatibility.

“In order for a species to be able to survive and thrive, they need to have a large genetic diversity and low inbreeding,” she said.

The institute has been breeding red pandas for 30 years, according to Kordell. She said she is very excited about the new additions.

“Some animals are cute as babies and then not so much as adults, but [red pandas] are adorable their whole lives,” she said.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or