Binghamton Zoo loses red panda

Binghamton lost one of its most vibrant, creative and furry members of the community. Xiao-Li, a 6-year-old adult red panda in the Binghamton Zoo at Ross Park, passed away on Jan. 9.

Photo Provided Xiao-Li, a 6-year-old adult red panda in the Binghamton Zoo at Ross Park, passed away on Jan. 9. Red pandas, which can live up to 14 years in captivity, are found mostly in Central Asia.

He is survived by his mate and cub and is dearly missed by his non-bear family at the zoo.

“It’s hard losing an animal in a small zoo such as ours,” said Rachel Davenport, media relations assistant at the Binghamton Zoo. “But it’s something that is dealt with in our profession.”

Born in the Nashville Zoo in 2008, Xiao-Li traveled to the Binghamton Zoo to mate in 2011 as part of the Species Survival Plan (SSP), created by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to encourage the expansion of the species. He mated with female Mei-Li, who gave birth to his cub, now 6-month-old Zhin-Li.

Xiao-Li was one of the most popular animals at the zoo; workers described him as a “very fun-loving, easy-going, relaxed red panda.” Xiao-Li was more than just a pretty face. As part of an animal enrichment program, he was an avid painter — his work was showcased and sold at the Oakdale Mall, with the revenue from the sales going back to the zoo.

Though he enjoyed painting, Xiao-Li did not work for free.

“He was very food-motivated; he loved grapes,” Davenport said.

A necropsy performed at Cornell University found heart disease to be the cause of death. Xiao-Li had health issues in the past, including displaying symptoms of lymphoma.

Xiao-Li’s death came on what was supposed to be a day of celebration. As part of the SSP, the baby Zhin-Li was going to be sent to the Erie Zoo to find a mate of his own and contribute to the reestablishment of the red panda population.

The red panda is an endangered species, with only 175 in captivity across America and Canada, and 60 in the subspecies to which Xiao-Li belonged. The goal of the SSP is to repopulate the species with diverse and genetically varied individuals.

Zhin-Li’s move to Erie was put on hold due to Xiao Li’s passing. Now either he will leave and another male will be brought in to partner with Mei-Li, or Mei-Li will leave to join another mate.

Xiao-Li’s death leaves not only an empty cage, but an empty spot in the community.