A female red panda, Shama, was euthanized at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Va., Saturday, Aug. 16. A necropsy performed later that evening revealed severe cerebral edema (swelling of the brain). Based on preliminary cytology, the swelling is attributed to encephalitis associated with a microscopic parasite.
Shama was well known as the mate to Rusty, the male panda who escaped his enclosure at the National Zoo in June 2013. Shama gave birth to three cubs earlier this summer, and she was under close observation, because it is rare for a red panda to successfully raise three cubs. On Wednesday, Aug. 13, keepers noticed that Shama had developed a neurologic disorder that progressed quickly. Shama was euthanized due to her worsening clinical condition and poor neurological function, which was likely attributed to accumulation of fluid in the brain
Shama’s three cubs are now being hand-reared by experienced staff. Keepers are also hand-rearing a cub born to female Regan. Shama’s three cubs are active and appear to be doing well, but one is considerably smaller than its siblings, and receiving treatment for pneumonia. As a precaution, all three cubs are receiving anti-protozoal treatment. Rusty, who was housed with Shama and the cubs until recently, is also receiving anti-protozoal treatment as a preventative measure. He appears to be doing well.
“Shama’s death is a big loss for all of us and for those who study and care for red pandas everywhere,” said National Zoo Director Dennis Kelly. “I have a lot of confidence in the team caring for the surviving cubs and hope this creates an opportunity for scientists to research infectious diseases that affect red pandas.”
Molecular testing will yield additional information on the species of the parasite. Histopathology is also pending and will tell veterinarians if there are additional lesions or disease processes.
Headquartered in Front Royal, Va., SCBI facilitates and promotes veterinary and reproductive research as well as conservation ecology programs based at Front Royal, the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and at field research stations and training sites worldwide. The National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute is a part of the Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest museum and research complex.