This year, both my husband and my sister had the brilliant idea to get me experiences for a birthday gift. Without consulting each other, they both got me experiences to feed my favorite animal, the red panda, at two different wildlife parks in England.
Unfortunately, this year my birthday came literally at the very beginning of lockdown and I was just recently able to schedule my red panda experiences. A few weeks ago I was able to feed the red pandas at Shepreth Wildlife Park!
You guys, it was amazing. Shepreth is a small wildlife park, but larger than I thought at first glance. We found ourselves rushing through the one-way VWSNBN*- compliant route to get to the red panda enclosure on time. If you go to feed the pandas, I’d suggest going straight there. You’ll have plenty of time after to look at all the other wonderful animals!
After my rush through the park, I arrived at the red panda enclosure and the amazing keeper greeted me kindly. She probably told me her name but because masks (VWSNBN ugh) and the wind (England weather, ugh), I didn’t catch it. She asked me if I knew I had to climb a ladder to get into the enclosure and luckily I had read this beforehand. Not that it mattered, I’d do almost anything to pet a red panda, but at least I wasn’t surprised. So after a few minutes of me trying to figure out how to gracefully climb down a ladder from a wall, I awkwardly shimmied down face forward. Not my most graceful of attempts, but hey, I didn’t fall on her either.
Once down in the enclosure we walked to a table like area where the red pandas came to get their morning treats. The keeper warned me before hand that, while they aren’t aggressive, their little claws are quite sharp and they get really excited for snacks. She offered protective gloves, but with those you can’t feel the floofliness, so I politely declined. I won’t lie, their claws are sharp and I ended up with quite a few little scratches, but nothing terrible. I’d say scratches similar to those of a cat.
With the treat pouch out, I met the hungry pandas for the first time. The first to arrive was Sundara, Shepreth’s 7 year old female. Not far behind her was Ago the young male that’s only about two years old. With a pouch full of cut grapes the keeper showed me all the tricks they know and told me a little about the pandas. For example, their paws have fur on the pads to keep their little feets warm in the snow of their native habitat.
Soon it was my turn and she handed me the pouch. Though that didn’t last long as I am not deft enough to fend off two hungry red pandas and hold a treat pouch. Instead, she held the grapes for me and let me grab them one by one. This proved to be a great system and I got so many “cuddles” while I fed the hungry little pandas. I even got nose kisses! (Though noses are hard for red pandas to find behind masks.)
When all the grapes were gone I was given large stalks of fresh bamboo to place in holders around the enclosure. Red pandas love bamboo but it would be impossible to grow the amount of fresh bamboo they would eat on a weekly basis in the zoo. So their diet is supplemented with fresh fruit and veg and a panda cake type thing that has all the nutrients they need.
After placing all the bamboo, I was free to take as many photos of Sundara and Ago as I wanted. Though, after her snacks were gone, Sundara was over the attention and climbed to the top of the tree to take a post breakfast nap. Luckily Ago stayed with me, snacking on bamboo, kissing my camera and taking a couple selfies. All the while their keeper was super informative, telling me about the species, their life span and their endangerment in the wild. While I’ve covered my concern for animals in the wrong type of captivity before, I like to see when endangered animals are being cared for and bred so we can save them from extinction.
After about thirty minutes of more cuteness that one could handle in a day, my red panda time was up. I climbed back up the ladder (a little more gracefully than I did going down) and bid adieu to my new fluffy friends. There was plenty more for us to see at the park and we spent another hour or so marveling at the rest of the wildlife. But there’s nothing like being so up close and personal with the cutest animals on the planet. I will absolutely go back and see them before we leave England and if you’re anywhere near Cambridgeshire, I urge you to go too. If not to feed the pandas specifically, at least head to Shepreth to see all the good they’re doing for wildlife and our environment. If you want to help red pandas world wide, you can donate to the Red Panda Network.
*VWSNBN – The Virus Which Shall Not Be Named.