red panda

Celebrating Red Pandas

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Saturday the 16th of September is International Red Panda Day!

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Celebrated on the third Saturday in September, IRPD was created to bring awareness to the plight of the red panda and the need to protect this very special little panda. Red Pandas are endangered due to habitat loss and illegal poaching. IRPD is celebrated by individuals and zoos around the world who raise funds for red panda conservation. Some zoos celebrate on a different day, so if you are interested in participating, check out the IRPD page at Red Panda Network.

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Pretty in Red

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Saturday September 17th will be International Red Panda Day. I’ve been celebrating IRPD since it first began in November 2010. Zoos around the world will be celebrating with special events and red panda themed fun. If your local zoo has red pandas, ask if they are celebrating. If they aren’t, see if they can next year. Information on IRPD can be found at Red Panda Network!

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On December 10th, 2015, Melbourne Zoo’s red panda mum Roshani and red panda dad Seba became proud panda parents to two adorable male cubs, Mandu and Keta. Mandu is short for Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital city and Keta means boy in Nepalese.

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We decided that we would visit them as often as we could and make a photographic journal. We visited the zoo often throughout December, January, February and March but with no sightings. Finally, in early April, we saw them for the first time. And they were worth the wait! Two little bundles of fur clung to their tree branches whilst devouring an enormous amount of bamboo. Mum watched over them protectively.

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Since April we have visited them 6 times 🙂  It’s hard to pick a sample of best shots as they are adorable in almost every shot but I have given it a go. I hope you enjoy this small sample of the journey of Mandu and Keta, so far!

For my tasty Red Velvet Cupcake recipe created especially for IRPD and an hilarious panda cartoon by Anne Belov, please click here 🙂

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Day 4 – Chengdu Pandas

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As we jumped into a taxi and rode towards the Chengdu Panda Base, we couldn’t contain our excitement! We had seen pandas only twice before. In 1988 giant pandas Fei Fei and Xiao Xiao toured Australia and we went to see them at Melbourne Zoo. In 2010 we did the VIP tour in Adelaide to meet the pandas Wang Wang and Funi. Now we were about to see pandas in their homeland, in their natural environment – and we were going to hug one as well 🙂

We arrived at the base and our guide quickly secured our spot for the panda cuddle. With time to spare we saw our first pandas in China – 5 baby pandas in a cot! We couldn’t believe how cute and fluffy they were. We could have spent the whole day watching these sweet little cubs sleep but there were more pandas to see and we wanted to see them!

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We walked along beautiful paths surrounded by bamboo to the next group of pandas – a mother and cubs. The playful pandas entertained and delighted their spellbound audience. They ran around, dropped from trees and structures and one young panda even suckled on the mother while she reclined on her back. It was breathtaking to see them in these beautiful enclosures surrounded by their natural habitat. We got to see quite a lot of the park but the time had come to meet the little panda!!

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We were taken into a room and shown an informative video about pandas. Then we were taken to the hugging room 🙂 We were given a protective coat, booties and gloves to wear and waited in a line before an exquisitely carved bench. Next to the bench was a tray with a jar of honey, slices of apple and bamboo. A keeper arrived carrying the young Miao Miao and settled her on the bench with some of her treats. She had a good look at her adoring fans, then proceeded to lick a honeyed apple slice. When she was finished she turned to the keepers and stared at the table. They ran to assist her, offering a sweetened bamboo stick. She graciously accepted it and happily munched on it while she prepared to be greeted by her spellbound audience.

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One by one we took our turn to sit by the little princess. When my turn came I was overwhelmed with emotion. I sat next to the little panda and cuddled her. She looked up at me and munched away at her bamboo. So many thoughts were going through my head – how lucky I am to be sitting next to her, how cute and adorable she is, how soft yet wiry her fur is, how pinchable her ears are, can I take her home with me? – were some of my jumbled thoughts. Mostly I thought about how endangered pandas are and how important it is to protect them and do all we can for them. I was also surprised at how much time we had with her. I was expecting to sit down and then jump up a few seconds later but they let us sit for a good while – of course I would have liked longer, like maybe a few years! It was Paul’s turn and they let him sit next to me for a few photos as a couple so I got extra Miao Miao time 🙂 I reluctantly left Miao Miao and the bench so Paul could cuddle the precious little cub. We said farewell to Miao Miao and went back to exploring the reserve.

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One of the next things we saw was a group of tiny baby pandas sun-baking on a plank of wood. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing – our brains nearly stopped working! As we watched these sleeping cuties one panda woke up and bravely wandered off the plank. When it wandered off too far it stopped and started squeaking. It was too much cuteness for me. I wanted to jump into the enclosure, take the squealing cub, and smuggle it home with me and Miao Miao. But before I could jump in an attendant came and rescued the cub, placing it back on the plank. A few minutes later he returned with a bucket and scooped up a couple of cubbies and left. We were told some VIPS were going to have their photos taken with them. Not long later the bucket returned and the celebrity pandas were scooped out and promptly went back to sun-baking. Later in the day we were lucky enough to see these baby pandas asleep in their cot in the nursery.

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We ended our day with red pandas. They were in a part of the reserve where they could wander around freely. The fence along the walkway had holes for the red pandas to wander through. I stood, stunned as I watched a red panda climb down a tree, go through a gap in the fence, walk past me, go through a gap on the other side, and then sit next to a bowl with food. It was surreal and heaps of fun! Chengdu Panda Reserve surpassed my expectations. It was incredible and I’m glad we chose to spend a whole day there. I couldn’t wait for tomorrow and our trip to Bifengxia Panda Reserve.

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Note: Neither Miao Miao nor any other cub were smuggled out of the panda base onto a plane to Melbourne. The bamboo in my backyard is for decoration only. 🙂

International Red Panda Day

Saturday the 20th of September is the 5th International Red Panda Day!

Never heard of International Red Panda Day? Well pop on over to the Red Panda Network and find out what all the excitement is about. If your local zoo has red pandas, find out if they are doing something. If they aren’t, let them know about it so maybe they can participate next year. It’s celebrated on the 3rd Saturday in September.

IMG_3228I was lucky enough to participate in the 1st International Red Panda Day at The National Zoo and Aquarium in Canberra. As they were listed as the only zoo in Australia participating in the event, I excitedly planned a weekend trip, booked my flights and accommodation and thought I would also treat myself to a red panda encounter. When I rang the zoo to book the encounter, I also asked what festivities they were doing for the special day. Imagine both our surprise when they said they had never heard of International Red Panda Day! They said they would check out what it was all about and ring me back. A few hours later I got a call saying they loved the idea and that they were now officially participating in the event. I was so excited – and so relieved. It ended up being a great day.

I am a huge fan of both the red panda and the giant panda. Growing up I couldn’t believe that these two vastly different but extremely cute creatures could be related, but that was the common view. Now we know that giant pandas are part of the bear family and red pandas are in their own unique family. There is a great article about these two different pandas here. For more information on red pandas and giant pandas visit the Red Panda Network and Pandas International. They have heaps of fun stuff on their sites, information and ways you can contribute to the panda cause

To help promote International Red Panda Day, Anne Belov of the Panda Chronicles has kindly created a cartoon featuring Rusty the Red Panda. I am so excited about this! When I first discovered the Panda Chronicles I thought it would be great to have a red panda become part of the giant panda gang. Thanks to Anne, my dream has come true.

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And there’s more!
To celebrate International Red Panda Day we have created a celebratory cuppycake especially for the day.

Red Panda Red Velvet Cuppycakes
Pandas of all colors will devour these celebratory red velvet cuppycakes with cream cheese frosting.

Ingredients
for the red velvet cuppycakes
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup superfine granulated (caster) sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup sunflower oil
1 egg, room temperature
1 egg yolk, room temperature
2/3 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon pomegranate juice
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar
red food coloring

for the cream cheese frosting
1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (115g) cream cheese, softened
4 cups powdered (icing) sugar
1/2 tablespoon milk
pomegranate seeds for sprinkling

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 12 paper cases.
In a small bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and sea salt. Set aside.
In a separate bowl whisk together the sugars and oil with a wire whisk until combined. Add the egg and egg yolk and whisk well. Add the buttermilk, sour cream, vanilla, pomegranate juice and cider vinegar. Whisk until smooth.
Using a wooden spoon, fold through the flour mix. Gently blend through enough red food coloring to achieve desired red. This should be a fairly wet batter. If it is too dry add more buttermilk.
Using an ice-cream scoop, spoon the batter evenly into 12 paper cases.
Bake for 10 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a cuppycake comes out clean. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

While cuppycakes are cooling make the cream cheese frosting by creaming together the butter and cream cheese in a medium sized bowl with an electric mixer. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar. Add the milk and beat until frosting reaches a piping consistency. Spoon frosting into a piping bag and pipe onto cuppycakes.

Decorate with pomegranate seeds.

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This recipe and other panda related recipes will be in The Panda Chronicles Cuppycake Cookbook: Favourite Recipes From The Panda Kindergarten.

Coming soon!!

Animal Crackers

I love animals. I always have. From my earliest years all I ever wanted was animals. I loved visiting zoos, wildlife parks, petting zoos and seeing animals in their natural state was an absolute pleasure. I loved coming home to my pets. I loved playing with my stuffed animals and my animal models. My favourite board game growing up was the 1960’s Wild Life game; a game recommended by the World Wildlife Fund. When I left home I took that game with me. During my many moves I lost it and was devastated. But, thanks to the internet, 25 years after I lost the game I managed to find one in England. The day it arrived in Australia was one of the happiest. So many of my childhood memories were there in that one box. And yes I have played it again and again!

Although I loved all animals, one thing I didn’t have was a favourite. I wanted to have one so I tried ways of picking an animal that would be my favourite.

The Children of the Night

As a vampire fan from a young age I formed a bond with Dracula’s animals – the wolf and the bat. We are lucky to have fruit bats in Melbourne that fly through the night sky, just like bats in a Dracula movie. One of the local parks has colonies of bats that you can visit during the day. If you go there at dusk you can see them wake up and get ready for their nightly flights. Many an evening has been spent watching these magical creatures. It was a colony of bats living in the trees of a caravan park I was staying at in Sydney that inspired me to create the Dracula Tarot!

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hanging around

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daytime flight

 

While we don’t have wild wolves in Australia, we have their domesticated brethren; the dog. It is through these pack animals that I have bonded with the wolf archetype. While I will one day write at length about my special pack of dogs, for now I need only say that I call them my WolfChildren from the WolfChild pack. My first two dogs – Batty and Wolfy – were named after Dracula’s bat and wolf 🙂

Astrological Symbols

In Western Astrology I’m a Taurus and my animal is the bull. I researched bull and cow mythology which is quite fascinating. But while I liked them as animals, I just couldn’t bond with cows or bulls on a spiritual level.

I had a bit more luck with my Chinese animal sign which is the snake. Snakes are extraordinary animals mythologically. They are so extraordinary that I’ll be doing a separate post on their mythologies 🙂 But I will mention that snakes are linked to vampires – especially Dracula – which makes them very special to me!!

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is that a python on your shoulder?

The main problem for me with snakes is that they are also creatures of fear when you live in Australia. We have 9 of the world’s Top 10 venomous snakes here so they are always in the back of your mind when you go outdoors in Spring and Summer. I’ve seen a few in the wild and they are magnificent creatures. But your heart always goes into overdrive as you wait to see what they will do. Usually they will leave you alone if you leave them alone – which is what I do! I’ve always said that I don’t fear them but I do respect them. That fear and respect was tested this year when a large, venomous tiger snake came into my yard!! While I waited for the snake catcher to come, I stayed in the yard with the snake – at a not so safe distance. I had plenty of time to reflect on this creature of myth, legend and fear. And I realised they really are scary! But I still love them – just not as a favourite 🙂

A Very Special Pair

While I couldn’t find a favourite animal I found two that are very special to me; the red panda and the puffin.

I first encountered the red panda at Melbourne Zoo and it soon became one of my favourites. Whenever I went to the zoo I would go see the red panda first and visit it again before I left. I loved its red fur and adorable face. I thought it looked like a fox in a tree. There is even an International Red Panda Day which is celebrated on the third Saturday in September.

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feeding the panda

I became fascinated with puffins when I was lucky enough to go to Iceland for a holiday. Before the trip I researched the local fauna and thought they sounded interesting. When I first saw them on Grimsey Island I fell in love with their precious, serious little faces. They won my heart when I saw them fly. Their wings are so tiny that when they take off you think they are going to fall out of the sky. But they flap and flap those tiny wings and off they go!

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puffin road trip – iceland

Two important animal organisations for me are The Red Panda Network and Project Puffin. Through them I sponsor a red panda and an Atlantic puffin. It is a lovely way to give back to these animals that have given me so much pleasure.

I tried hard to find a favourite animal but I never did. And then a most peculiar animal chose me. It took a long time but I finally have a favourite animal. I’ll be telling this “tail” very soon 🙂