It's been a long 18 years since the red pandas at Ireland's Belfast Zoo have reproduced, so when this little kitten, appropriately named Phoenix (red pandas are also called 'fire foxes'), arrived in early July, everyone was excited. Because red pandas are born blind and develop slowly, Phoenix has been living in a nest box for the past three months ... but now, she's ready for her big debut. 

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Belfast Zoo is celebrating its first red panda cub in 18 years. Image: Belfast Zoo

"We are delighted with Phoenix’s progress over the last few weeks," says zoo curator Julie Mansell. "Although she still spends the majority of her time in the nest box, she is beginning to explore her enclosure more regularly."

Red panda numbers are declining dramatically in the wild, so staff at Belfast Zoo are glad to see their pandas healthy and thriving. "[These animals] are already extinct in some areas of China, where they were once historically found," adds zoo manager Mark Chalis. "We are all delighted to welcome Phoenix to the zoo family and we are proud to be playing an active role in the conservation of the red panda."

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The new arrival was born to proud parents Plocia and Chris. She will be cared for by Plocia for the first year of her life. Image: Belfast Zoo
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Red pandas are referred to as ‘fire foxes’ and for this reason keepers named her ‘Phoenix’, after the mythological creature associated with fire. Image: Belfast Zoo
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When not foraging for food on the ground, red pandas spend most of their time in the trees. Image: Belfast Zoo
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Red pandas are native to the Himalayas in Bhutan, southern China, Pakistan, India, Laos, Nepal and Burma – but it is believed that there could be fewer than 2,500 in the wild. Image: Belfast Zoo