Red Panda Romance Hits Western North Carolina

Feb 13, 2019

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, a pair of living teddy bears make their debut at the  Western North Carolina Nature Center in Asheville.     BPR’s Helen Chickering has a preview.

“So there’s Phoenix and there’s Leafa.”

It’s a misty morning at the Nature center in Asheville, animal curator Erin Oldread  is standing at the entrance of the new red panda exhibit – and we’re about to go into the habitat and meet the pandas.

“This is Phoenix and Leafa”

Perched high on catwalk like structure,  Phoenix and Leafa stare down at us with their bright adorable eyes   The pandas are about size of large house cats and are covered in reddish brown fur, with raccoon-like masked faces  and large fluffy ringed tails. 

“The tail they use for balance and also when it is cold, just like a fox, they will cover their face to keep warm,” says Oldread.



The two, and yes they are a couple and had offspring in the past, were born in captivity and came to WNC from the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago zoo. Asheville’s Nature Center  is known for having animals local to Western North Carolina, and apparently, red pandas do have a local connection – just not a recent one,  says Oldread

“So we’re kind of looking at prehistoric Appalachia, Their ancient relatives, the Bristol’s panda was found in Tennessee, so nearby, in same climate as Western North Carolina. So its really interesting that an animal was very similar to them used to here a long time ago,” says Oldread.

The red panda as a species are unique in the animal world, having baffled animal scientists for years.  Apparently,  the mammals don't fit any know category and were given one of their own, the Ailuridae family.  We’ll just dub them – adorable!  Helen Chickering, BPR News


From the City Press Release:

The City of Asheville is excited to announce that the WNC Nature Center’s new red panda exhibit opens to the public at noon on Valentine’s Day, February 14, and will include a ceremonial ribbon cutting and the introduction of our new resident pandas, Leafa  and Phoenix.

The red pandas arrived at the Nature Center in November, passed the required quarantine period and have been slowly introduced to their new habitat.  They are the first species introduced as part of the Nature Center’s new Prehistoric Appalachia project and are part of the Species Survival Program associated with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.  Red pandas are currently endangered, with only several thousand remaining in the wild.

About the WNC Nature Center

Asheville’s 42-acre WNC Nature Center is home to more than 60 species of animals, including river otters, red and gray wolves, black bears and a cougar. Its mission is to connect people with animals and plants native to the Southern Appalachian Mountain region by inspiring appreciation, nurturing understanding and advancing conservation. The Nature Center is proud to be accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.  For more information about the WNC Nature Center, visit