Two rare red panda cubs Tala and Sumi bred at Longleat safari park, Wiltshire, were discovered dead inside their nesting box on Thursday morning. The twins are thought to have died from hypothermia during the recent week’s cold snap, according to officials at the safari park.
Wild red pandas can be found in southwestern China and in the eastern Himalayas, where temperatures can drop to -15 centigrade, and the temperatures in Longleat only dropped to between -7 and -8 during Thursday night. But the fact that the cubs’ mother recently stopped providing supporting feeds may have played a part in their death, says officials.
Tala and Sumi were born earlier this year, as part of a breeding project to try and boost the species numbers, and first made their appearance in September when they started moving outside. Red pandas are classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), with as few as 2,500 remaining in the wild.
A Longleat spokesman said: "We’ve provided an increase in diet, shelter and bedding, however the cubs were mostly still dependent on their mum."
They added that red pandas have a very high mortality rate, with only one in five making it to adulthood. Their main threats include deforestation, poaching and habitat loss.
Tala and Sumi, whose parents were Emma and Lionel, were the seventh and eighth red pandas born at Longleat safari park. The park said the twins had been "closely monitored and looked after by our dedicated team".
The park’s spokesperson said: "We know so many of you have loved seeing these beautiful creatures for yourselves and will share our sadness in having to say goodbye to them. Thank you for your understanding at this time, especially for our keepers who formed such a special bond with them both."