One zoo is celebrating a rare kind of love in every sense of the word for a pair of endangered red pandas, with a specially prepared Valentine’s date now that the couple are trying to conceive!

The romantic set up including red roses, paper hearts, and pink bunting was arranged by keepers at Drusillas Zoo Park for their resident red pandas, Maja and Mulan, in an effort to ignite an amorous flame amid hopes of welcoming cubs in the near future.

The cute couple enjoyed exploring the whimsical arrangement together and snuffling for the hidden treats of panda cake and sweet red grapes, and were even seen offering each other ‘panda kisses’ in the form of gentle nose taps. Male Maja definitely took the lead on the date, diving head first into the box of treats, while female Mulan cautiously sniffed from the sidelines. But ever-the-gentleman Maja made sure to leave some goodies for his mate who eventually joined him in the Valentine’s festivities and keepers looked on as they enjoyed investigating together.

Drusillas is thrilled to have recently been awarded breeding approval for red pandas from the EEP Studbook keeper, meaning this pairing could finally result in the arrival of endangered panda cubs – something the zoo has not seen for almost a decade.

EAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquaria) Ex situ Programmes (EEPs) are population management programmes for animal species that are managed by EAZA Members. The aim of EEPs is to have and maintain healthy populations of healthy animals within EAZA and beyond. Currently EAZA manages programmes for over 400 different species.

Five year old Maja, who came to Drusillas in 2019 from Sosto Zoo in Hungary, is quite the ‘toy boy’ for 11 year old Mulan who moved to the Sussex zoo from Paignton when she was just a year old, and keepers are hoping that Maja’s youthful energy and Mulan’s calm wisdom will be the perfect combination for conception.

Although fitting with Valentine’s Day this week, the activity also formed an important part of the Drusillas’ daily enrichment programmes, where animals are offered new and varied stimulus each day to encourage natural behaviours. The hope with their panda date is that exploring something together will build a connection between Maja and Mulan and trigger some panda passion.

Headkeeper, Gemma Romanis, commented: “Obviously red pandas are adorable and the thought of cubs is unbearably cute, but excitement among the team at the prospect of babies is far deeper than just cuteness.”

“Red pandas are endangered in the wild, so it’s a real privilege as a zoo to be part of the conservation breeding programmes that contribute to the future survival of threatened species like this. Understandably, I think a lot of people assume if an animal is endangered then we just breed as much as we can, but it’s actually a very controlled and carefully managed process to ensure genetic diversity in the population, so the future of the species can be as successful as possible. For quite a long time our pandas haven’t been able to take part in the breeding programme, and the breeding approvals are reviewed every year, and this is (hopefully) our year!”

Prior to the breeding recommendation for 2024/2025, Mulan had been fitted with a contraceptive implant – the same implant used by human women wishing to avoid pregnancy. The implant has now been removed and keepers hope the couple will successfully mate any day now!