When the protagonist of Pixar’s animated movie Turning Red morphs into a giant red panda, her chaotic transformation is anything but welcome.
But at Paradise wildlife park in Hertfordshire the birth of a real-life endangered red panda cub has been celebrated as a “symbol of hope”.
The mother, Tilly, gave birth to the cub, named Little Red, on July 16 with the moment captured by CCTV at the zoo.
It has taken four years for Tilly to become pregnant and it is seen as a bittersweet moment after her breeding partner, Nam Pang, died of Addison’s disease a month before the cub was born.
Interest in red pandas rose this year with the release of Disney Pixar’s Turning Red, in which Mei Lee, a 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian student, transforms into a giant red panda when she experiences any strong emotion due to a hereditary curse. The Hertfordshire red pandas have won fans from across the globe, who sent messages of support for Tilly.
Red pandas are classified as an endangered species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list, with fewer than 2,500 remaining in the wild.
They are highly threatened due to factors including deforestation and the illegal pet trade.
Tilly and Nam Pang were placed together through the European Ex-Situ Breeding Programme, which aims to create a safety net for endangered species in the wild.
Aaron Whitnall, the operations coordinator at the zoo, said the cub had become “a symbol of hope, after the tragic passing of Nam Pang, for his memory and legacy to live on is more than we ever expected”.
He added: “The birth of Little Red creates a beautiful ending for a tragic, heartbreaking story that shocked the community in the month of June.”
Keepers are not yet able to establish the sex of Little Red but hope to do so around the six-month mark.