Red Pandas 1: Sumo

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Sumo, the only male red panda currently residing at Sequoia Park Zoo (in Eureka, CA), is a lithe, colorful quadrupeds, at turns curious, phlegmatic, mischievous, stoic, adventuresome, petulant, accommodating, irritable. Here’s a shot of Sumo taken back in 2012:

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And here’s another shot of Sumo hanging out with his brother, Shifu. Sumo is the red panda on the right.

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At the end of 2012, Shifu was exiled to Detroit, where he now resides. Red pandas are “solitary” animals, which is a nice way of saying they’re not that much into each other. They will tolerate other red pandas with which they share an exhibit, but they usually go out of their way to respect each other’s space. The only exceptions are mothers with their cubs and adult males and females during breeding season. Nevertheless, here’s an image of Sumo with his erstwhile mate, Stella Luna. This picture was not taken during mating season, so it’s difficult to know what they were getting up to here:

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But normally they stay away from each other. And occasional there’s even a bit of hostility. After Stella gave birth to their first cub, Mohu, they had a bit of an incident. Stella was out looking for a snack when a bunch of crows began making a racket in the general direction of the den where Mohu slept, unattended. Getting nervous about what was going on, Stella tried to return to her den, but Sumo happened to be blocking the way:

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Stella tried to squeeze passed her male consort:

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But Sumo turned and hissed in her ear:

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Even though Stella was quite a bit larger than Sumo and probably could have whacked him out of the way, she decided to honor Sumo’s request not to invade his space. She turned around and took the scenic way back to her den to check on little Mohu.

Sumo doesn’t always get the better of Stella. One time, after the zookeeper had entered with their favorite treat, apples, both the pandas were running on a branch to partake of this particular delicacy. Stella, to make sure she would get there first, turned to Sumo and gave him a good strong whack. Sumo faltered and lost his balance. It looked like he would surely fall to the ground. But Sumo is a veritable trapeze artist up in the branches and trees. He easily grabbed a branch and righted himself like it was nothing. Then he joined Stella for the treats. Curiously, he made no effort to exact revenge against Stella. Sumo may be many things, but he is not a vindictive or vengeful red panda.

Here’s a short video to give one a better idea of Sumo’s supple way of carrying himself and his expertise as a walker on narrow branches:

Sumo has many moods and expressions, as the following set of images illustrates.


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Stealthy and cautious:

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Concentrated, determined:

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Sumo is an expert climber, and easily traverses just about any climbing obstacle. One of the great climbing challenges in the exhibit is a long bamboo stalk rising some fifteen feet or so in the air. It’s slippery and narrow and, quite frankly, looks unclimbable. But not to Sumo, who occasional will scale it just for the fun of it. Here he’s coming down after climbing to the top. Notice, he comes straight down, in the proper red panda way. None of this cowardly, super cautious, going backwards stuff!

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Perhaps Sumo’s greatest exploit was when he got his head stuck in a pumpkin:

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He finally freed himself from the immense pumpkin by using gravity to pull it off his head:

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Although Sumo is a committed quadruped, determined to remain on all fours for the lion’s share of his existence, occasionally he’ll get up on his hind legs to see what things look like from a bipedal point of view:

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He especially likes to get stand up to beg:

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But Sumo’s favorite activity is — sleeping:

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