OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden recently welcomed an endangered male red panda to Sanctuary Asia as part of the Association of Zoos and Aquarium (AZA)’s Red Panda Species Survival Plan® (SSP).

Benjamin, 6, comes from The Cape May County Park & Zoo in Cape May Court House, New Jersey, as part of the SSP’s breeding recommendation to pair with the OKC Zoo’s 2-year-old female, Khyana.

“Benjamin and Khyana are a great match and our hope is to see our red panda family grow as part of this breeding recommendation,” said Tyler Boyd, curator of carnivores. “The OKC Zoo’s involvement in this SSP plan and bringing this pair together plays a vital role in the conservation of this endangered and beloved species.”

SSP programs were developed by the AZA in 1981 to help ensure the husbandry and breeding management and, as a result, the sustainability of select animal species, many of which are threatened or endangered, within AZA-member zoos and aquariums. Many of these programs help enhance conservation efforts of these species in the wild as well.

The global red panda population is estimated at less than 10,000 animals, with a conservation status of endangered.

Due to deforestation, poaching and the illegal pet trade, the red panda population has declined by 50% in the last 20 years.

Benjamin’s caretakers report that he is very comfortable with his new habitat and introductions have begun between him and Khyana.

The red panda pair have been sharing habitat space together and caretakers have observed Benjamin and Khyana eating together and lying next to each other – which are positive signs for a connection!

According to caretakers, Benjamin also prefers grapes and apples and is very inquisitive about any enrichment added to his habitat.

The Oklahoma City Zoo is open Thursdays through Mondays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The park is closed to the public on Tuesdays and Wednesdays through Wednesday, February 9.

Regular admission is $12 for adults and $9 for children ages 3-11 and seniors ages 65 and over. Children two and under are admitted free.