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It’s official: Red pandas are coming to the WNC Nature Center

Photo credit: Dave Pape/MGN

Though they roam the eastern Himalayas and southwestern China, their close ancestors used to call the Southern Appalachians home. And now they’re returning! Red pandas will come to the WNC Nature Center this fall.

At their April 24 meeting, Asheville City Council approved a $184,820 appropriation for the construction of the Red Panda Exhibit and Breeding Project. Yes, that means Asheville could have baby red pandas at some point, if all goes well.

What is a red panda?

According to National Geographic, the red panda has given scientists taxonomic fits. In the past it had been classified as a relative of the giant panda, but now, researchers believe it as a closer relative to the raccoon. Currently, red pandas are considered members of their own unique family — the Ailuridae.

Why they’re coming to the Nature Center

While red pandas currently live in the forest of the Himalayas and major mountain ranges of southwestern China, 5 million years ago their now extinct relative Bristol’s Panda inhabited what is now known as the Southern Appalachians Mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee. They are an endangered species. Only 10,000 wild adult red pandas remain in the world. And red panda populations are on the decline in the wild.

Bringing them to the WNC Nature Center is the next development in the center’s Prehistoric Appalachia-themed area of the park. The exhibit will feature a den and breeding area, an interpretive exhibit and viewing areas.

Construction will begin this spring with the anticipation of bringing a pair of red pandas to the WNC Nature Center this fall. Eventually, the Nature Center staff hope to host a breeding pair of red pandas.

“The central Asian range of the modern day red panda is almost identical climate-wise to the Southern Appalachians so our pandas should feel very much at home in Asheville,” said Chris Gentile, WNC Nature Center Director. “The fact that the fossilized remains of their ancestor the Bristol’s Panda have been discovered in Eastern Tennessee indicates that these pandas were once prevalent in our area.”

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