Red pandas Leafa and Phoenix star at new WNC Nature Center exhibit


The WNC Nature Center’s new red panda exhibit will open to the public on Feb. 14. The Valentine’s Day opening will introduce the center’s new resident pandas, Leafa (pictured) and Phoenix.

The red pandas arrived at the nature center in November and have passed the required quarantine period. They’re slowly introduced to their new habitat, the center’s Animal Curator Erin Oldread said in a written press release.

The addition of red pandas, as well as a number of other animal exhibits, is part of the Nature Center’s Prehistoric Appalachia project, which is part of its 2020 Vision plan for growth. Red pandas are currently endangered, with several thousand remaining in the wild, according to the center. Leafa and Phoenix are part of the Species Survival Program associated with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, according to the news release.

The nonprofit Friends of the Nature Center, working with the city of Asheville, funded construction of the red panda habitat area at the center. That fundraising continues with chances to see the pandas up close before the February opening.

For $250, donors receive 2 tickets to a soft opening of the red panda exhibit in early February. A donation of $1,000 allows the donor and up to three guests to have a private red panda encounter, according to the news release.

Asheville’s 42-acre WNC Nature Center is home to over 60 species of animals, including river otters, red and gray wolves, black bears, and a cougar. Its mission is to connect people with animals and plants native to the Southern Appalachian Mountain region by inspiring appreciation, nurturing understanding, and advancing conservation. The Nature Center is proud to be accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. For more information about the WNC Nature Center, visit their website at