• Zoo Atlanta Honors Idgie By Saving Red Pandas In The Wild

    Idgie was an ambassador for her species who inspired people to join Zoo Atlanta in conserving red pandas in the wild.

    This spring, Zoo Atlanta lost a favorite resident: Idgie, a red panda, who passed away shortly before reaching fourteen years of age—a long life by red panda standards, but too short for her fans among the zoo’s patrons and staff.

    Even by the standards of her charismatic species, Idgie had a big personality—a lively, bold spirit who made her likes and dislikes clear. She learned to ask (through pointed stares) to enter her behind-the-scenes area and would bleat (also pointedly) when she was ready for food. A food lover like all red pandas, her adoration of grapes made her easy to train, although she may have thought she was training her keepers to give her grapes if they wanted her cooperation. Grapes also solved a minor problem when Idgie trapped a bird that had entered her enclosure. Remembering her carnivore heritage, she prepared to eat it, but given the small but serious risk of wild animals passing disease to zoo specimens, her keepers had to offer a trade. She happily ditched her prey for some grapes.

    Zoo Atlanta's veterinary team winning Idgie over with grapes.
    Zoo Atlanta's veterinary team winning Idgie over with grapes.

    Idgie’s training paid off as she aged, and her regular checkups expanded to included treatments for arthritis. Her care team enacted a care plan and some remodeling to keep her comfortable and happy in her golden years adding ramps, stairs, and platforms in her habitat to allow her to remain arboreal without having to climb. When she could no longer get up her tree, the horticulture team added more greenery to give her hidey-holes to cozy up in. She also had a cooled nesting box, an ideal respite from Southern summers. Idgie had a long, comfortable life at Zoo Atlanta, and she repaid her keepers and zoo guests with her sparkle and charm. She will be remembered and missed.

    Idgie was an admirable ambassador for her species—but we have no doubt her successor will do an excellent job. Zoo Atlanta’s red panda enclosure makes a roomy home for one panda; perfectly acceptable for this species that keeps to itself in the wild, and the perfect home for an individual animal that, for whatever reason, is not a good candidate for breeding but who can serve to raise awareness of their species. Once Zoo Atlanta is ready to welcome a new red panda, they can consult the Species Survival Plan of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which will be able to find a good candidate for the zoo’s facilities and needs. The process can be lengthy, but ensures that placements are made in the best interests of individual pandas and the species as a whole.

    Zoo Atlanta's red panda Idgie giving us a view of her toungue.
    Zoo Atlanta's red panda Idgie giving us a view of her toungue.

    Any new panda that arrives will help draw attention to Zoo Atlanta’s support for Red Panda Network’s conservation efforts in Nepal and annual celebration of International Red Panda Day. Until then, Zoo Atlanta can continue its conservation and education memories while cherishing the memories of an especially beloved member of our favorite species.

    Zoo Atlanta has been an important supporter of Red Panda Network for nearly a decade. 2019’s generous gift of almost $12,000 included $5,000 for the Plant A Red Panda Home initiative, which will restore at least 32 hectares of degraded core red panda habitat in Nepal with more than 30,000 native trees. This funding supported activities including the purchase of 22 acres of private land that, once restored, will serve as part of a forest corridor connecting protected habitats in Nepal and India, as well as the establishment of a forest conservation nursery that will produce 20,000 native plants to support local community forests and their users and serve as red panda habitat and forage. Even as Zoo Atlanta houses one lucky red panda at a time, they’re working to make sure wild red pandas have safe homes too.

    Forest restoration in Eastern Nepal.
    Forest restoration in Eastern Nepal.

    Chris Turner-Neal
    Writing and Communications Volunteer
    Red Panda Network