Utica Zoo Releases Cause of Death for Red Panda – Passing Attributed to Acute Aspiration Pneumonia

UTICA – The Utica Zoo’s Deputy Director of Life Sciences and Facilities, Jay Pratte, released a statement outlining the cause of death of the Zoo’s red panda, Ming Yue, who passed on Monday, Oct. 11.

“We wanted to follow up with everyone who expressed concern over our female red panda Ming Yue’s unexpected death a couple of weeks ago. It is an industry standard for accredited and reputable zoos to perform a “necropsy” when an animal under human care dies. An animal necropsy is the equivalent of a human autopsy, including an overall investigation to determine cause of death; this includes both a full physical examination and sampling/testing of tissues by an experienced veterinarian and/or pathologist. We worked with the laboratory at Cornell University and recently received the final necropsy report.

It was reported that Ming Yue experienced acute aspiration pneumonia: this is a lung infection caused by inhalation of saliva, stomach contents, or other foreign particles. Acute conditions are severe and sudden in onset. It is unknown how this occurred with Ming Yue; it can result from being startled while eating or drinking, breathing in dust or particles, or even having food or water “go down the wrong tube” (something that each of us has experienced at some point). All of our animals receive direct care and attention from zoo staff every day. Changes in behavior or health are closely monitored, recorded and reported. We have veterinary technicians on grounds daily and work with an experienced local veterinarian. Ming was exhibiting typical behaviors, eating properly, and even interacting with staff normally the two days prior to her sudden death. Reviewing our observations and daily records, no atypical signs of illness or distress were evident. This is not uncommon in “acute” health events. The report also mentioned a potential underlying cardiac issue which could have complicated the acute health problems; cardiac issues are a recognized congenital issue in red pandas as a species.

Animals are experts at concealing illness or weakness. For predators, they run the risk of losing their territory or being injured by competitors. For prey species, exhibiting behaviors that indicate you might be easier to catch for dinner will lead to an early demise. This makes monitoring health particularly challenging, but our dedicated staff are always working their hardest to improve our animals’ well-being. For those that have asked, we are working with the Species Survival Plan coordinators on how we will proceed with our red panda management program moving forward. We will update you in the future with news.

Ming Yue’s loss was sudden and traumatic for everyone. Thank you all for your support through this difficult time.”

Ming Yue was one of two red pandas on exhibit at the Zoo. She was born in 2013 at Prospect Park Zoo, Brooklyn and came to the Utica Zoo in 2014 on loan through Assiniboine Park Zoo, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.  She and her mate, Muse, have had two groups of cubs including Xiaobo and Mei Lin in 2019. Muse was born in 2011 and came the Utica Zoo from Red River Valley Zoo in 2012. Muse remains on exhibit.

Red pandas are currently classified as an endangered species, and the Utica Zoo works closely with the Red Panda Species Survival Plan to reverse this perilous trend.

To arrange for an interview with Pratte, contact Kari Procopio, 315-738-0472 ext. 38 or kari.procopio@uticazoo.org.

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