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Jabba the Sloth has Hope for Love; Rochan the Red Panda Finds Reason for Meri-ment

 BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018 – With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, love is in the air for two of Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo’s resident bachelors: Jabba the Sloth, and Rochan the Red panda. The Zoo is now the new home for Hope, a sloth that once made her home in Connecticut before transferring temporarily to John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Mich., and Meri, a four year old Red panda, newly arrived from the Brandywine Zoo in Wilmington, Delaware. Both of the new arrivals have spent the past several weeks becoming accustomed to their new homes, and being gradually introduced to their significant others. Neither of the new arrivals is currently on exhibit, but will be making their public debut in the next few weeks.

Hope, the Two-Toed Sloth

Jabba and Hope are currently getting to know each other by occupying space side by side in the Animal Health Care Center. Both are Two-Toed sloths (Choloepus didactylus), a species found in Central and South America. Largely nocturnal and solitary, sloths are arboreal, living in trees in rainforests and as well as deciduous forests. The two-toed sloth is larger and (relatively) faster than its cousin, the three-toed sloth. They spend most of their lives snoozing in the rainforest treetop canopy, hidden from predators but vulnerable to deforestation. Hope is not currently on exhibit, but will soon join Jabba in the Rainforest Building.

Meri, the Red Panda

Meri, short for Meriadoc, arrived several weeks ago from the Brandywine Zoo in Delaware, and has also been undergoing a period of adjustment to her new surroundings. She was named for Meriadoc Brandybuck, a character in J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings. Red pandas (Allurus fulgens fulgens) are not true pandas, rather, they are a unique species whose name “panda” is derived from a Nepalese word, “ponya,” meaning “eater of bamboo.”  Like many in the Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo’s animal collection, the red panda is threatened in the wild by territory loss and fragmentation, resource depletion, and are frequently hunted for their beautiful fur.

Rochan and Meri will soon have a spacious new home together. The Zoo broke ground on a new habitat for the Red pandas in August, 2017.  The Natt Family Red Panda Pavilion was made possible thanks to two substantial donations: from Bob and Helen Natt of Easton, and a matching grant for monies raised by supporter donations from the Werth Family Foundation. The new Red panda habitat will feature a yard landscaped with bamboo—(Rochan eats approximately 1,000 bamboo leaves daily!)—with plenty of treetop spots for sunbathing. Hailing from the Himalayas and the mountain ranges of southwest China, Red pandas prefer colder climates. The new habitat will have cool spaces to enjoy in the summer, and outdoor space to explore in the winter.

Managed by the AZA’s Species Survival Plan (SSP), inter-regional transfers are arranged with careful attention to gene diversity in the hope that successful breeding will take place.

“Meri is a beautiful Red panda, and has an outgoing personality that will make her a Zoo favorite,” said Gregg Dancho, zoo director. “The new Natt Family Red Panda Pavilion will provide Rochan, Meri, and any offspring an expanded new habitat designed for their comfort and happiness as well as optimal guest viewing.”

“We’re delighted to have Hope, the sloth, return to us,” he continued. “When the sloths return to their exhibit, they will be in the Rainforest Building where they can be viewed doing very little most of the time.”

“The Zoo’s breeding program exists to bolster the dwindling number of animals still in the wild,” explained Dancho. “It’s a real testament to our Zoo’s strong reputation for working to protect endangered species and to educate our guests about them. It’s an important part of our mission and we’re justifiably proud of that.”

About Two-Toed Sloths

The two-toed sloth ranges in body length from 21 to 29 inches, and in weight from 9 to 20 pounds. Their name comes from two large claws on their forelimbs that grow up to three inches in length. Their fur is light tan to dark brown, with lighter coloring around their face and head. They live 10-12 years in the wild, but up to 31 years in captivity. Their diet is primarily made up of leaves, but they also eat bird eggs, nestlings, lizards, and insects. With an extremely slow metabolism, they spend most of their time hanging upside down in a tree.

  About Red Pandas

Red pandas resemble raccoons, are solitary animals, and are nocturnal by nature. Like their larger and better-known black and white cousins, Red pandas primarily eat bamboo but will occasionally eat fruits, berries, young leaves, and certain tree bark. Rochan, which means “light,” “brilliant,” and “celebrated” in Hindi, is three years old, and weighs nearly 15 pounds. Red pandas are vulnerable in the wild, with fewer than 10,000 adult Red pandas in existence. As a result, they are a part of the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s Species Survival Program (SSP), which manages specific, typically threatened or endangered species populations.