RIP Shama: National Zoo euthanizes its beloved red panda

The 7-year-old female died following a sudden neurological disorder

Published August 18, 2014 6:46PM (EDT)

Shama   (Mehgan Murphy, Smithsonian's National Zoo)
Shama (Mehgan Murphy, Smithsonian's National Zoo)

Sad news from the Smithsonian National Zoo: 7-year-old Shama, a female red panda, died this past Saturday following a sudden neurological disorder.

According to a press release, keepers first noticed something was wrong last Wednesday; when her condition worsened and neurological functioning continued to deteriorate, she was euthanized at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Va. A necropsy revealed severe cerebral edema, or swelling, which appears to have been caused by "encephalitis associated with a microscopic parasite." Molecular testing is expected to reveal further information about the parasite.

Mate to Rusty, the male panda who made a famed zoo-break last year, Shama had given birth to three cubs earlier this summer. Officials say the rest of the family is doing all right:

Shama's three cubs are now being hand-reared by experienced staff. Keepers are also hand-rearing a cub born to female Regan. Shama's three cubs are active and appear to be doing well, but one is considerably smaller than its siblings, and receiving treatment for pneumonia. As a precaution, all three cubs are receiving anti-protozoal treatment. Rusty, who was housed with Shama and the cubs until recently, is also receiving anti-protozoal treatment as a preventative measure. He appears to be doing well.

"Shama's death is a big loss for all of us and for those who study and care for red pandas everywhere," National Zoo director Dennis Kelly said in a statement. "I have a lot of confidence in the team caring for the surviving cubs and hope this creates an opportunity for scientists to research infectious diseases that affect red pandas."

Here's some footage of Shama and her cubs from last month. She will be missed:

By Lindsay Abrams

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