John Ball Zoo red panda Wasabi is pregnant

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A happy announcement from John Ball Zoo: Wasabi the red panda is pregnant.

The Grand Rapids zoo made the announcement Friday morning, posting video of Wasabi’s ultrasound on Facebook.

The cubs should be here later this month or in early July. According to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute, red pandas often have two cubs at a time. A veterinarian says Wasabi is certainly carrying at least two but that there could be more.

Wasabi came to Grand Rapids from a zoo in Omaha, Nebraska, just last year. This is her first pregnancy. Her mating partner Wyatt has already had two cubs. They were born in 2016 at Chattanooga Zoo, where he was before moving to John Ball Zoo in 2017.

“There’s always that question of is it going to be the right pairing,” veterinarian Ryan Colburn said. “In the North American zoos, we work through the Species Survival Plan, and that is a group that organizes the pandas so we can keep track genetically a good pairing. But ultimately they not only have to be a good pair medically and genetically, but they also have to get along. And so when we brought Wasabi in, that was the first step making sure they get along and so far they’ve been doing really well.”

Zoo staff will keep an eye on Wasabi and her cubs to using cameras in her den to make sure everyone is healthy.

Wasabi. (Courtesy John Ball Zoo)

Red pandas are endangered — there are believed to be fewer than 2,500 adults in the wild, with the population decline blamed on the destruction of the bamboo forests where they live in the Himalayan Mountains.

“Red pandas are endangered and their survival continues to decline in the wild,” John Ball Zoo CEO Peter D’Arienzo said in a statement. “Wasabi’s pregnancy and anticipated birth is significant for John Ball Zoo and crucial for the red panda species.”

The zoo partners with the Red Panda Network’s Forest Guardians, a group in the Himalayan regions that works to protect habitats and teach fellow locals about the pandas.

“By having them here (at John Ball Zoo), we’re involved in a number of conservation projects in the field to make sure that wild pandas stay healthy. And for them, we need to keep their habitat healthy,” Colburn said.

*Editor’s note: Zoo officials initially indicated there was only one cub expected, but a veterinarian later said there were at least two.

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