The Red Pandas & Their Keeper / by Justin Merriman

Kids clamor and jostle for positions. They press their faces against the glass trying to get a closer look at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium's red pandas. “I can't name an animal that's come here that's more popular,” says Ray Bamrick, 54, of Hampton, a lead keeper, who has worked at the zoo for 34 years.
Though their names are similar, the red panda is not directly related to giant panda, and although it was once believed to be in the family of raccoons and bears, the red panda belongs to its own family, Ailuridae. Its range includes China, Myanmar, India, Nepal and Bhutan, and it is listed as an endangered species, with its primary threats being deforestation as well as hunting and poaching. Bamrick, who primarily works with reptiles, shares a special bond with the red pandas.
“I like them,” he says with a smile. He's cared for Xia, the female red panda, since she arrived at the zoo in 2011, and more recently with Kovu, the male who arrived in 2014.
The zoo is hoping the pair will mate.
“I want these babies really, really bad,” says Bamrick, who understands the vulnerability of the species, with some estimates as low as 2,500 left in the wild.
“It has to be meaningful, what we do here. I feel it's part of my responsibility to give them the best care,” he says.
As Bamrick sits on a small log in the middle of the exhibit, Xia climbs onto his lap. He feeds her sliced apples and diced grapes from his pocket. On the other side of the glass, kids watch with a keen, wide-eyed fascination.
“I love my job,” Bamrick says. To read the story and visit the gallery go to the Tribune-Review.