The Italian Almanac

red panda babies

Red Panda Babies

An Italian safari park near Lake Garda has three big new attractions after a pair of rare red pandas and a hippopotamus were born there.

Red pandas are tree-dwelling mammals with red-brown fur and long bushy tails that are slightly bigger than domestic cats. They are not members of the bear family that the giant panda belongs to, but they share their more famous namesakes' appetite for bamboo and, unfortunately, their status as species threatened with extinction. The pair born at the Parco Natura Viva at Bussolengo near Verona are a male of 5.05 kilos and his sister of 4.9 kilos.

Park wardens said their birth is quite an event, especially given that it took place in an Italian heat wave, making conditions very different from the mother's home habitat in the Himalayas. Red panda numbers in the wild are falling mainly because of habitat loss and poaching for their fur and tails, which are used to make hats.

Wardens do not yet know the sex of their newly born hippo, however, as it will take weeks before the mother will let vets near it. The mother is almost always in physical contact with her calf, they said, mostly in water, even when she is giving milk. The calf is about 30 kilos now but will grow fast and may weigh over three tonnes when full grown.