Image: Tenzin and Jishnu
Anoek De Groot  /  AFP - Getty Images
Twelve-week-old red panda cubs Tenzin (held by zookeeper Lisa Abra at left) and Jishnu (held by Bobby-Jo Vial at right) are displayed to the media at Taranga Zoo on Wednesday.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 3/28/2007 12:24:52 PM ET 2007-03-28T16:24:52

Twin red pandas made their public debut at Sydney's Taronga Zoo on Wednesday, the latest additions to a breeding program that aims to ensure the survival of the endangered species.

Zookeepers cuddled and showed off the 3-month-old males as they tried to weigh the wriggling cubs on some scales. One is named Jishnu, Nepalese for "bright" or "triumphant," and the other is named Tenzin after the famed Everest climber Tenzing Norgay.

The proud parents, meanwhile, Wanmei and Mayhem, completely ignored the visitors crowding around the enclosure and continued their morning snooze.

"They're just brilliant, they're beautiful. It's amazing to be able to hold an endangered animal in my hands, knowing that we've just contributed to the world population," Taronga Zoo worker Bobby-Jo Vial said.

Zoo veterinarians gave the cubs a clean bill of health after administering vaccinations and implanting microchips. Jishnu weighed in at just a little more than his brother — 2.3 pounds (1.04 kilograms) as opposed to 1.9 pounds (871 grams).

In an update posted online, senior carnivore keeper Louise Ginman said, "It is always a time of great celebration when an endangered species is born at Taronga Zoo, especially when they are as charismatic as red panda cubs. Wanmei is a very experienced mother and she is doing a fantastic job rearing her cubs."

Wanmei came to Taronga from Pennsylvania's Erie Zoo last year to breed with Mayhem and establish a new red panda bloodline in the Australasian breeding program.

Red pandas are found across the Himalayan mountains and foothills of northern India, China, Nepal and Bhutan. Experts believe as few as 2,500 survive in the wild, where they are threatened by deforestation and poaching.

Forty-three cubs have been born at the Sydney zoo since it began its red panda breeding program in 1977. Another aspect of the program is an education effort in Nepal, aimed at teaching villagers about the devastating impact of harvesting firewood from the country's dwindling forests.

This report includes information from Reuters and the Taronga Zoo.

© 2013 msnbc.com

Video: Rare red panda cubs step out

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