‘Cute and fun’: How to meet GR zoo’s red pandas

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids is offering a new, fun, furry adventure: zoogoers can now meet a red panda one-on-one.

“It’s a one-of-a-kind opportunity,” zookeeper Kasey Knepper said. “They’re cute and fun to look at it.”

The zoo recently announced the Red Panda Encounter, where visitors can meet Wyatt (at the zoo since 2017) and Wasabi (who came to Grand Rapids earlier this year).

“They get to spend a few minutes with them. They get to feed them a little snack and scratch them on their back,” Knepper explained.

On Monday, News 8’s Donovan Long tried the experience for himself. In his first time seeing Wasabi, he fed her grapes, sweet potatoes and carrots. It was her third time getting so close to a visitor.

The Red Panda Encounter isn’t cheap, costing $250 per person. Knepper said it’s money well spent.

“A portion of that money goes to help red pandas both here and in the wild,” she explained.

Red pandas, like Wasabi and Wyatt, are endangered. The population has decreased by 50 percent in the last 18 years and there are only about 2,500 left in the world.

“Because they are endangered, there’s a program to breed them with one another to help stabilize the population,” Knepper said.

There’s no little Wyatt or Wasabi on the way yet (although the hope is that the pair will breed), so for now, the focus at John Ball Zoo is the encounter program.

“It’s wonderful to see everyone so happy and bonding over the cuteness of red pandas,” Knepper said.

Zookeepers only allow two red panda encounters per week. The encounters have to be scheduled ahead of time and they typically happen at 9:30 a.m., half an hour before the zoo happens.

For information on scheduling an encounter, you can contact the zoo.  

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