First red panda arrives at Lake Superior Zoo

Zoozee, one of Minnesota's few red pandas, will be ready to meet the public by the end of May. A second red panda is expected to arrive later this year.

A red panda is seen up close, its face covered in white fur with red rings rising around its snout and curling inside its eyes.
Zoozee, a red panda, has arrived in Duluth.
Contributed / Heidi Beal

DULUTH โ€” The first of two red pandas expected to arrive at the Lake Superior Zoo this year is now on-site and adjusting to her new home.

A red panda is seen on a tree branch, stepping forward with one paw raised. The panda's white ears are visible against her largely red fur.
This 11-month-old red panda, who was born at the Kansas City Zoo, has arrived at her new home in Duluth.
Contributed / Heidi Beal

Zoozee, an 11-month-old member of the critically endangered species, arrived April 8 and is currently out of public view during a "quarantine and adjustment period." She was born at the Kansas City Zoo. The Lake Superior Zoo expects a second red panda, a male, to arrive later this year.

The red pandas are highly anticipated additions, to be housed in the first new structure built on zoo grounds in decades. Zoozee's keepers expect the red panda will be ready to meet the public after the new habitat is complete in early May.

"We will be able to have a male and female pair in there, along with their cubs," explained Lizzy Larson, the zoo's director of animal management, speaking to media Wednesday afternoon while standing next to the private enclosure where Zoozee is waiting for her new habitat to be completed.

Larson said at about 3 feet in length and 10 pounds in weight, Zoozee is almost fully grown. As Larson spoke, the inquisitive animal readily came to the bars of her enclosure to snack on grapes the keeper fed to her on the end of a stick. Primarily but not exclusively a vegetarian, the red panda is going through about 3 pounds of bamboo a week in addition to nutritional biscuits.


Zoozee is presently the only member of her species living at a Minnesota zoo that is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

A red panda living at the Minnesota Zoo, in Apple Valley, died in 2021. In St. Paul, Como Zoo has explored the idea of a red panda exhibit, but no definite plans are in place. The Hemker Park and Zoo in Freeport, Minnesota, has two red pandas in residence.

Light-skinned woman wearing Lake Superior Zoo logo t-shirt stands in front of building bearing sign: "Willard Munger Animal Care Center."
Lizzy Larson, director of animal management at the Lake Superior Zoo, stands Wednesday outside the Willard Munger Animal Care Center, where Zoozee the red panda is staying under quarantine.
Jay Gabler / Duluth News Tribune

According to a news release, Lake Superior Zoo staff decided last year to move forward with a red panda exhibit given that the animals are well-adapted to the Northland climate. The small mammals are indigenous to mountainous areas of Asia, and the Lake Superior Zoo animals will be able to remain in their outdoor habitat year-round.

"We are one of the northernmost (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) accredited zoos," said Larson, "which is really phenomenal because we have this amazing climate that really (is) a great environment for cold weather animals."

Even Duluth might get a little toasty for the red pandas during hot summer days. "Her inside area will be air conditioned, if she wants to go into the air conditioning," explained Larson about the enclosure under construction.

Signs on closed door reading "Animal Care Staff Only!" and "ANIMAL QUARANTINE AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY."
Signs, seen Wednesday, mark a room at the Lake Superior Zoo where a red panda is staying under quarantine after its recent arrival from the Kansas City Zoo. Keeping new arrivals under temporary quarantine is standard practice when animals move from one zoo to another, said keeper Lizzy Larson.
Jay Gabler / Duluth News Tribune

This year marks the centennial of the Lake Superior Zoo, which will celebrate the occasion with programming including an anniversary exhibit expected to debut this summer.

"We are not just providing an experience," zoo CEO Haley Hedstrom told the News Tribune last year. "We are making sure that species, like the red panda, whose wildlife habitats are critically endangered, are able to continue to live successfully for generations to come."

A red panda stands on a tree branch, looking closely down at its surface.
Zoozee, a red panda newly arrived at the Lake Superior Zoo, is nearly full-grown at about 3 feet long and weighing 10 pounds.
Contributed / Heidi Beal
An outdoor animal enclosure is seen under construction, with mesh sides suspended between wooden frames. Structure stands approximately 20 feet tall.
The Lake Superior Zoo is building a new enclosure, seen Wednesday, for an expected pair of red pandas and any offspring they might have.
Jay Gabler / Duluth News Tribune

This story was updated at 9:06 a.m. April 27 to correct an erroneous statement that the Lake Superior Zoo's new red panda is the only red panda living in Minnesota. It was originally posted at 4:34 p.m. April 26. The News Tribune regrets the error.

Arts and entertainment reporter Jay Gabler joined the Duluth News Tribune in 2022. His previous experience includes eight years as a digital producer at The Current (Minnesota Public Radio), four years as theater critic at Minneapolis alt-weekly City Pages, and six years as arts editor at the Twin Cities Daily Planet. He's a co-founder of pop culture and creative writing blog The Tangential; he's also a member of the National Book Critics Circle and the Minnesota Film Critics Alliance. You can reach him at or 218-279-5536.
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