FARGO — Fargo's Red River Zoo, one of the premier red panda breeding programs in North America, is hoping for a baby.
Bo, a 5-year-old, 16-pound beauty with thick fur and a long tail, arrived in the city a few weeks ago, and zookeepers hope he will be a father-in-waiting sometime soon.
"Maybe by Valentine's Day," said zoo director Sally Jacobson, who noted this is breeding season for the endangered species.
Bo is one of six red pandas at the zoo, which has played host to the mammals native to China and the eastern Himalayas since opening 22 years ago.
"It's one of our specialties and what we are known for," Jacobson said.
Bo is not on exhibit but could be someday soon, as only two of the pandas are in the zoo's cold climate exhibit at a time.
Jacobson said they haven't had a baby panda at the zoo in five years, but Bo has the right genetics.
That is determined through the Species Survival Plan, an industry program involving zoologists, biologists and geneticists who want to have the right genetic diversity in case the pandas become extinct in the wild.
There are said to be less than 10,000 of the bamboo-eating red pandas in existence in the wild, but the number could be as low as 2,500.
It's thought that the wild population may be decreasing because of poaching, inbreeding and habitat loss.
The Fargo program started with two pandas that were imported from Canada, and more have been added over the years.
The zoo has welcomed 13 cubs in their program, making it one of the top breeders in North America, Jacobson said.
The pandas, discovered before Giant Pandas, have a lifespan of about 16 to 17 years.
Mother pandas carry their babies for about 4.5 months, so a new arrival could come as soon as early summer.
The zoo is open daily in the winter months from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with prices at $11.25 for adults, $10.25 for senior citizens and $8.75 for children age 2 to 14.