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Wednesday, 17 October, 2001, 16:11 GMT 17:11 UK
Red panda triplets meet their man
red panda
Whole broods of red panda triplets rarely survive
Three rare red pandas born in Cornwall have had their first human contact.

And their keepers have been given the news they have waited three months to hear - the triplets' sexes.

A vet at Paradise Park, in Hayle, has confirmed the two males and their sister are in excellent health.

The triplets had been monitored by closed-circuit camera since their birth on 26 July.

It is extremely unusual for a complete brood of red panda triplets to survive in captivity.

Red panda facts
Between 2,000 - 3,000 in the wild
Eats mainly bamboo
Threatened by deforestation and poaching
Fur hat considered lucky by newly weds
Tony Blair and his family watched the cubs through the TV system during their Cornish holiday in August.

Steve Otty, the park's vet, was given the task of inserting a microchip into each animal - once they had been caught by their keepers.

The chips will be used to decide their eventual breeding partners - and help tell the animals apart.

The pandas at Paradise Park are on breeding loan from other zoos.

The closed circuit cameras have given staff an unexpected insight into breeding behaviour.

Doting father

Curator David Woolcock said: "We were surprised that the male panda, Linn, has spent quite a while in the den curled up with his family.

"It was not realised that the males took any part in their care."

He said Linn's partner, Pandora, was "a really good, steady mother".

Paradise Park pandas
The Hayle pandas are loaned for breeding
The pair gave birth to their first cub last year.

The triplets were born on 26 July - but one remained hidden from view for two days.

The cubs have been fed on bamboo, fruit and "panda cake" prepared by a zoo supply company.

Red pandas resemble racoons in size and appearance.

They are native to the Himalayas and the remote bamboo forests of southern China.

Newlyweds' talisman

They have already become extinct in four of the seven Chinese provinces in which they were previously found.

There are only two or three thousand still alive in the wild; about 50 of the animals live in zoos in the Western Hemisphere.

The major threats to red pandas are deforestation, and poaching for the pet and fur trades.

In China, the fur is used to make hats and clothing.

In Yunnan Province, the hat, with its long, luxurious tail at the back, is desired by newlyweds because it is regarded as a talisman for a happy marriage.

See also:

29 Jul 00 | Science/Nature
13 Apr 00 | Science/Nature
24 Dec 99 | Science/Nature
24 Jul 99 | Asia-Pacific
12 Oct 01 | Science/Nature
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