Despite sad start, cutest red panda you've ever seen is now living his best life

Oolong was born with disorder, loses mom unexpectedly

Provided by the Binder Park Zoo
Provided by the Binder Park Zoo

Look at this little one and try not to audibly squeal in delight if you’re out in public or sitting at work: This tiny guy is a baby red panda named Oolong -- and he was only 1.3 pounds when he was born. (!!!)

Oolong is now on exhibit at a zoo in Michigan -- the Binder Park Zoo, if you happen to be in the area -- and zoo officials say he’s thriving. But he got off to a bit of a rocky start.

“While small in size, Oolong is big on personality,” the zoo said in a written release. “He is playful, rambunctious and curious as he ambles about his surroundings. His squeaks and snorts are typical red panda vocalizations as he responds to the keepers.”

To rewind a bit, Oolong was born June 29, but his mother, Cinnamon, died unexpectedly of pneumonia in August, meaning that an animal care team and veterinarian staffers had to intervene and help rear the cub.

Provided by the Binder Park Zoo

That's not all. When Oolong was born, he weighed in about 50 percent smaller than most red panda cubs of the same age -- due to a disorder known as congenital hypothyroidism, caused by a lack of active thyroid hormone. (Who knew that could happen in red pandas?)

The good news is, Oolong continues to improve. These days, he’s drinking something called Esbilac, a milk-replacer formula for puppies, and zoo officials say he's flourishing and gaining weight.

Oolong’s days now consist of feedings and periods of socialization, along with access to a crate, where he can choose to nap or hang out. Sounds like he’s got it made!

Plus, maybe there’s a bright side to the otherwise sad situation, zoo officials said.

“While the loss of Oolong’s mother and the need to hand-raise the cub is not the circumstance we would ever hope for, this is an unusual and rare opportunity for the public to be able see a young red panda cub up close,” said Kathryn Sippel, the curator of collections at the zoo.

And who wouldn’t want to see this guy up close?

Photo: Binder Park Zoo

Just something to keep in mind before you pack your car or hop on a plane: The zoo closes for the season on Sunday.

A beer event called Bonteboktoberfest is set for Oct. 13 and ZooBoo starts Oct. 18, which both pose the chance for visitors to see the cub. But otherwise, you’ll have to wait for next season.

Until then, hang in there, Oolong!

Watch a video of the red panda here.

About the Author: