Park owner's fears over Red Pandas

TWO rare Red Pandas have been missing for a week now - after escaping from their enclosure at a wildlife park during a storm.

People living near the Galloway Wildlife Conservation Park at Kirkcudbright are being asked to keep a look out for the pandas - mother Pichu and her daughter Isla.

The pair made a run for it after a tree fell on to their pen during storms. They left Mushu, the father, behind and he is now pining badly for his family.

The animals were still at large as the Gazette went to press last night.

John Denerley, owner of the wildlife park, said yesterday: "The Red Pandas are still missing and people are helping us to find them. We are concerned about them being missing.

"Unfortunately we had stormy weather recently, during which one of the trees toppled on to their enclosure, allowing the mother and daughter to climb over and wander free.

"The third Red Panda stayed behind during the escape. I am sure they should be able to survive on fruit, berries and lichens in the countryside. Red Pandas are similar to raccoons and tend to love being up high on trees.

"Pichu and Mushu are both on breeding loans. Mushu was from Cotswold Wildlife Park and Pichu was from Curraghs Wildlife Park, Isle of Man.

"Their daughter was born last year, in June 2007. They are a rare breed and there are only 70 in the country.

"I advise anyone who sees the pandas not to approach them, but to contact the park straight away. I can add that the pandas' father is pining for them.

"We have been searching them for a few days and now we would ask anyone who lives near the wildlife park to look up their trees, gardens and sheds. It is hoped they may make their own back when they get hungry."

Red Pandas, which are native to southern Asia, are very fond of climbing trees and it is thought they could well be hiding in one.

Kirkcudbright Police are also on the hunt of the furry fugitives. A police spokesman said: "We are looking into the report of two missing Red Pandas from the Wildlife Park at Kirkcudbright. The pandas, described as being about the size of a small dog, escaped from their enclosure at the park overnight on 7th/8th February 2008.

"The pandas are red/ginger in colour and have a long curly black tail, with a face similar to a bear.

"It should be stressed that these animals do not pose a threat to the public and staff at the park are looking for the public's assistance to recover them. It is thought that that the bears will return to the park when they are hungry."

Wildlife experts say the recent cold snap should not bother the pandas as their thick fur keeps them warm in extremely cold surroundings.

Red Pandas are classed as an endangered species and are protected in Nepal and China. Habitat loss is thought to be the major reason for their decline.

They spend most of the day asleep, but become active at night. Their closest relative is the giant panda, but they look more like raccoons. They live for around 12-14 years and feed mainly on bamboo. They are slow on the ground but at home in the tree.

More Red Panda cubs have been born at the Kirkcudbright conservation park, established in 1989, than any zoo in Britain. The park is home to 120 animals from all over the world including have lemurs, maned wolves, birds of prey (owls), lynxes, otters, meerkats, macaws, wallabies, emus and tapir.

Anyone sighting the Red Pandas should contact Kirkcudbright police on 0845 600 5701.