Red pandas coming to WNC Nature Center

Though they roam the eastern Himalayas and southwestern China, their close ancestors used to call the Southern Appalachians home. And now they’re returning! Red pandas will come to the WNC Nature Center this fall.

At their April 24 meeting, Asheville City Council approved a $184,820 appropriation for the construction of the Red Panda Exhibit and Breeding Project. Yes, that means Asheville could have baby red pandas at some point, if all goes well.


What is a red panda?

According to National Geographic, the red panda has given scientists taxonomic fits. In the past it had been classified as a relative of the giant panda, but now, researchers believe it as a closer relative to the raccoon. Currently, red pandas are considered members of their own unique family — the Ailuridae.


Why they’re coming to the Nature Center

While red pandas currently live in the forest of the Himalayas and major mountain ranges of southwestern China, 5 million years ago their now extinct relative Bristol’s Panda inhabited what is now known as the Southern Appalachians Mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee. They are an endangered species. Only 10,000 wild adult red pandas remain in the world. And red panda populations are on the decline in the wild.

Bringing them to the WNC Nature Center is the next development in the center’s Prehistoric Appalachia-themed area of the park. The exhibit will feature a den and breeding area, an interpretive exhibit and viewing areas.

Construction will begin this spring with the anticipation of bringing a pair of red pandas to the WNC Nature Center this fall.

“The central Asian range of the modern day red panda is almost identical climate-wise to the Southern Appalachians so our pandas should feel very much at home in Asheville,” said Chris Gentile, WNC Nature Center Director. “The fact that the fossilized remains of their ancestor the Bristol’s Panda have been discovered in Eastern Tennessee indicates that these pandas were once prevalent in our area.”


‘Friends’ pledge donation

The Friends of the WNC Nature Center announced that they will fund 83% of the Asheville City Council’s approved $184,820 for construction of the red panda habitat.

“We’re excited to work with the City to make this project possible. We have agreed to donate $154,200 toward the construction of this habitat,” said Kelly Shanafelt, Executive Director of the Friends.

The Friends will rely on individual donors as well as grant funders to raise the $154,200 and they’re already well on their way! “We’ve raised about 40% of the funds needed, due in large part to a single donor family who was inspired by the red pandas they visited while on a trip to China,” said Shanafelt.


About the WNC Nature Center

We’ll be sure to let you know when the red pandas arrive! In the meantime, many exciting developments are under way at the WNC Nature Center, including construction of the new entranceway, made possible with the support of sponsors, including the Friends of the WNC Nature Center.

The WNC Nature Center is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Daily admission and season passes are available. For more information, visit or call 828-259-8080.



Meet our new red panda pair at Zoo Knoxville from Zoo Knoxville on Vimeo.


Click this link to watch an adorable baby red pandas video.