The first red pandas (aka lesser pandas) arrived at the San Diego Zoo in 1940. This group of four, a male and three females, came from Nepal, where they were thought to be “fairly plentiful, since almost all of their enemies, with the exception of man, are effectively foiled by the rugged habitat,” explained a ZOONOOZ article. These flaming orange-and-white animals, with their disarming good looks and boundless curiosity, were exceeding rare in the US and caused quite a sensation.
Zoo director Belle Benchley wrote that upon their arrival “we were all charmed with their beautiful coloring and cunning, friendly ways….The four little faces with the mask so like that of our common raccoons peered earnestly out toward the light, and when they saw the green leaves (of bamboo), eight little hands reached out and holding the leaves daintily, ate with evident satisfaction the, to me, tough and somewhat tasteless leaves.”
One of the females was friendlier than the rest, and she became known as Loppy. In 1942, Loppy gave birth to a cub, and that “sturdy, healthy youngster” was the first of several “annual increases” in the local red panda population. In 1948, there were five red panda cubs born at the Zoo. The name “panda” means “bamboo-eater,” and it was fortunate that the Zoo could (and still does) provide a variety of this “natural and apparently essential food in fresh quantities” for these endearing animals. Loppy’s contribution to her kind and our knowledge of taking care of these animals was a priceless contribution to the San Diego Zoo.