Brace yourself—these little critters are as cute as they come.

By Chad Taylor
July 15, 2021
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holding tiny baby red panda
Credit: Courtesy of Potter Park Zoo

As pretty much anyone who's ever seen one (even Disney!) can attest, red pandas are adorable. But red pandas in baby form? Wow. You have no idea.

Zoo births are always causes for celebration. Sometimes they manage to catch everyone by surprise and sometimes they happen very, very publicly. But, no matter how they come, new baby animls are some of the happiest additions for any zoo. So you can imagine how excited the Potter Park Zoo in Lansing, Mich., was this past Independence Day, when their 7-year old red panda Maliha gave birth to her second litter of cubs.

Red pandas are rare—there are about 220 in various zoos and preserves around the United States—and small: adults tip the scales at about 13 pounds. So red panda newborns, who come into this world both blind and deaf, are incredibly tiny babies, fitting into the palm of zoo workers' hands.

During the first two months of their life, much of their care will be handled by Maliha herself, as the blind cubs stay close to their mother for warmth, food, and protection. However, zoo workers will keep an attentive eye on the small family to make sure the babies are developing as they should.

"Shortly after birth, a baseline weight is recorded for each cub, and subsequent weighings occur frequently to ensure they are growing as expected," Potter Park Zoo communications specialist Peter Sculli tells Daily Paws. "More thorough veterinary exams are also conducted to check for any injuries or abnormalities. Exams are kept short, as prolonged separation interrupts the maternal bond and can induce stress."

Sculli explains that most of the zoo's staff observations will happen via a camera that's been set up in the red panda's nest box. Zookeepers will review the footage to track stages of development including nursing and maternal care. "As the cubs grow," he says, "we watch for landmarks including the opening of eyes [which happens at 2 weeks in], and weaning [at 3 weeks in]." From then on, the cubs will start to play and explore around 2 months of age, and begin to venture beyond the den when they're about 3 months old.

Though the babies won't be available for the public to come and visit until those latter benchmarks are met, that doesn't mean that baby animal lovers will have to wait too long for their red panda fix. The zoo is setting up a livestream that will be shared along with photo and blog updates on the Potter Park social media accounts.