Image: Mother Shama and cub.
Smithsonian National Zoological Park
Mother Shama and cub.
updated 6/25/2010 11:33:34 AM ET 2010-06-25T15:33:34

Smithsonian National Zoological Park is celebrating yesterday's birth of a red panda cub, the first born at the Washington, D.C., zoo in 15 years.

The cub is the offspring of Shama and Tate, a couple who fell in "love at first sight," according to the zoo, when they were introduced to each other 1 1/2 years ago. The growing family is doing well.

“As red panda numbers decline in the wild, a healthy, thriving captive population will become more and more important to the survival of this species,” said Dennis Kelly, director of the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park.

“Through our research, we’re proud to play an important role in saving these animals.”

The pairing of Shama and Tate was no coincidence. Tate was brought to D.C. in 2009 from the National Zoo specifically to breed with Shama.

This was part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ red panda Species Survival Plan, which manages breeding in order to maintain a genetically diverse zoo population. Only 2,500 red pandas remain in the wild.

Although Shama and Tate were immediately attracted to each other, they had to fool around for a while before the timing was just right for the pregnancy.

“This birth indicates that the animals are comfortable and well adjusted in their home here,” said Tony Barthel, curator of Asia Trail. “We are excited about the opportunity we’ll have to watch and learn from the interactions between the red pandas as Shama raises the cub.”

As of this morning, the cub weighed 6.5 ounces and appears to be quite healthy. Shama is also "proving to be an attentive first-time mother," according to the zoo, which has closed off its red panda section to let the family have its peace for a while.

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