Two red pandas die at Smithsonian facility in Front Royal

The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal has announced the death of two of its red pandas. The cause of death is unknown, as necropsy results came back with “no obvious contributing factors,” said Pamela Baker-Masson, associate director of communication for the Smithsonian.

One of the red pandas died on July 24, said Baker-Masson. The other panda died the next day. Both animals were males.

The panda habitat at the Conservation Biology Institute offers the red pandas – an endangered mammal native to the Himalayas and other parts of Asia – the choice to either hang out in trees and other high areas of their enclosures or spend time in a cooler, climate-controlled area. Baker-Masson said that after the first panda’s death, that choice was eliminated, with the rest of the institute’s pandas being moved to cooler areas.

The remaining population showed no effects, said Baker-Masson, adding that tests came back inconclusive for any disease.

“As frustrating as it can be, this sometimes happens with necropsies,” she said. “There’s the initial result and it takes a little longer for some of the other lab reports to come back. Nothing has come back that’s conclusive. This may remain a puzzle, but not all the lab results are back yet.”

Baker-Masson noted that while it is unknown what contributed to the pandas’ death directly, underlying issues could have been potentially worsened by the heat.

“It’s just odd that one passed away and then another one in 24 hours,” she said. “It was extremely hot and extreme heat can exacerbate something. It may not be the exact cause of death, and I don’t think the necropsy results will ever prove that, but the heat could have exacerbated something underlying.”

The institute has nine red pandas that are being studied for a wide array of breeding-related purposes. The surviving population is doing fine, Baker-Masson said.

Contact staff writer Nathan Budryk at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or nbudryk@nvdaily.com