Red panda population at Hong Kong Ocean Park to increase, as more on the way from mainland China

More red pandas are on the way to Hong Kong, while the three currently at Ocean Park will have their stay extended, the tourist attraction has revealed.

The Ocean Park Conservation Foundation and Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding signed an agreement on Friday at an event kicking off the 2023 Sichuan Nature Conservation Week.

The three red pandas are having their stay extended as the park expands its “scope of activities” from just exhibition purposes to more scientific endeavours. The agreement covers the loan of the resident red pandas for another 20 years.

“If we have a bigger [red panda] population at Ocean Park, we can expand our level of deliverables to breeding and research, and more opportunities to promote this precious species in Hong Kong,” foundation director Howard Chuk Hau-chung said.

“We are very confident [we can do more], and I’m also very honoured that our partners in Sichuan trust us,” he said, adding that it was still unknown when the new red pandas would be delivered or how many.

Red pandas have been loaned to Ocean Park from mainland China. Photo: Dickson Lee

Another five-year agreement to strengthen conservation efforts and introduce staff exchange and student internship programmes was also penned with the Forestry and Grassland Administration of Sichuan province.

“We are enthusiastic about strengthening cooperation with Hong Kong,” the administration’s director, Li Tianman, said.

However, there were no updates on the Ocean Park efforts to replace the two giant pandas that died of old age in 2022 and 2017, respectively.

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An An and Jia Jia, which was the world’s oldest panda when she died aged 38, were a gift from Beijing in 1999.

Ocean Park continues to house Ying Ying and Ye Ye, which were gifted in 2007 to mark the 10th anniversary of the city’s handover to China.

“We are still working on it,” park chairman Paulo Pong Kin-yee said. “We’re in very close conversation with the government and related bureaus to talk about this because, as I’ve said before, we are very eager to receive new giant pandas.”

Giant pandas Ying Ying and Ye Ye were gifted to Ocean Park by mainland China in 2007. Photo: Dickson Lee

The three red pandas – Rou Rou, Cong Cong and Tai Shan – currently at Ocean Park have been loaned to Hong Kong since 2009. A fourth, Li Zi, was initially brought in with the others but died from heart complications in 2013.

Despite sharing the same name and certain physical qualities, red pandas are not closely related to their giant namesakes. They are a part of their own unique taxonomic family and have more in common with racoons, according to NGO World Wide Fund for Nature.

Giant pandas Ying Ying and Le Le mate for the first time at Ocean Park

The endangered species are listed as protected in mainland China. According to Ocean Park’s Chuk, about 10,000 red pandas are in the wild, and between 500 and 600 live in captivity.

Chuk said they shared a common habitat with giant pandas in mountains in Western China, but at a different altitude.

Although their average lifespan was around 14 years, the three red pandas at Ocean Park were all 16, Chuk said.

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