"Will Smith" a red panda, relaxes in it's enclosure at Happy Hollow Park & Zoo in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016.  Gaila and Will, two endangered red pandas, were available to view on Saturday, the opening day of the exhibit. (Patrick Tehan/Bay Area News Group)

Happy Hollow Zoo opens red panda exhibit and commits to the preservation of this endangered species.

Many people say that a house isn’t a home without a dog (cat, hedgehog, anole, enter favored animal companion here). You could say something similar about a zoo—yes, technically you can have an excellent zoo without any red pandas in it at all, but why not bring the treasures of the Himalayas to town to tie the whole project together? San Jose’s Happy Hollow Park and Zoo has recently done that, opening a new red panda exhibit and bringing everyone’s favorite bamboo-based life form to a new city.

Happy Hollow had found itself with some unused exhibit space, along with the most musical phrase to non-profit ears, “interested donor.” According to Conservation manager Charlotte Orr, the space was suited to a small-to-medium-sized species that was happy in a small group. Given the organization’s conservation focus, they wanted a species with an active Species Survival Plan through the Association of Zoos & Aquariums that Happy Hollow could support, and something with… charisma. Pizzazz. That certain something of which viral gifs are made.

A million-dollar donation in 2016 made it happen. Among the new projects Happy Hollow was able to take on from this generosity was a beautiful new exhibit for red pandas, complete with climate-controlled indoor area, fully-stocked bamboo buffet, and misters to keep the pandas comfortable when outside. From there, Happy Hollow looked for a red panda conservation group to partner with to continue the purpose of exhibiting them. Enter Red Panda Network.

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General Manager Shannon Heimer said, “Happy Hollow is pleased to support the Red Panda Network because of their commitment to the conservation of wild red pandas through the education and empowerment of local communities.” For a conservation-based zoo, like Happy Hollow and most modern, accredited zoos, a partner is important to add on-the-ground support in an animal’s native habitat to the captive care and breeding zoos can offer. “Conservation and education are at the core of everything we do at Happy Hollow,” says Zoo Manager Kevin Hertell. “Our red pandas are ambassadors for their species, and we hope they motivate our guests to help protect wildlife and their habitats.” Orr noted that “Zoos like Happy Hollow help red panda populations by raising awareness of deforestation, poaching, and other threats to their survival in the wild.” These issues are alarming in the abstract, but seeing the face—in the case of red pandas, the beautiful face—of a charismatic and relatable species threatened by these processes brings the gravity home to many observers. The world is a better place with red pandas in it, and the more people who realize that through interactions with zoo populations, the more resources and public attention can go to making sure the world gets to keep our beloved pumpkin spice raccoon-bears.

Happy Hollow Zoo celebrated International Red Panda Day in 2018!
Happy Hollow Zoo celebrated International Red Panda Day in 2018!
Interpretive sign at Happy Hollow's red panda exhibit.
Interpretive sign at Happy Hollow's red panda exhibit.

In addition to awareness, Happy Hollow is putting its money where its mission is. In 2018, Happy Hollow Park & Zoo raised over $120,000 for wildlife conservation through the Quarters for Conservation program, which started in 2015. Through this program, 25 cents of every ticket sold to Happy Hollow and $1 of every membership goes directly to local and global wildlife conservation and research. (And we may be biased, but we can imagine they’re selling a few more tickets with their new residents in place.) Last year, Happy Hollow supported red panda conservation with donations to Red Panda Network that totaled over $30,000!

Red Panda Network is honored by their generosity and excited to work with Happy Hollow Park and Zoo. We wish everyone there, furred, finned, feathered or just plain human, all the best.

Chris Turner-Neal
Writing and Communications Volunteer
Red Panda Network