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Erik Burgess, Published July 23 2013

Newborn Red Panda to be zoo, bus ambassador

FARGO – A newborn Red Panda cub will soon be scampering about the Red River Zoo here.

Officials also hope Mattie, born on July 14, will encourage more area children to scamper onto buses.

The zoo partnered with MATBUS in naming the cub, and Mattie will serve as an ambassador to the Red River Zoo and as a mascot for the metrowide bus system.

Mattie is now staying indoors with his mother and will venture out into the outdoor exhibit in a few weeks, said the zoo’s Executive Director Lisa Tate.

When he’s old enough, Mattie is expected to attend community events sponsored by MATBUS or the zoo, said Lori Van Beek, Moorhead transit director.

He’ll also be the zoo’s first ambassador animal ever, making him the “face of the zoo” in advertising and community outreach, Tate said.

In exchange for its partnership with MATBUS, the Red River Zoo will get free rental of a Moorhead bus wrap ad for three years, Van Beek said. The ad is still being drafted, but will likely feature the zoo’s upcoming otter exhibit on one side, and the red, fluffy Mattie on the other.

The panda cub will also be featured on the bus system’s youth summer passes.

Although MATBUS has never partnered with the zoo before, Van Beek said it’s a model that worked well when Cass-Clay Creamery cloaked a bus with a 2-percent milk ad.

“When we first got the 2-percent wrap on one of the buses, the kids all wanted to ride the milk bus,” she said. “And now I think the kids are going to want to ride the zoo bus.”

Mattie’s ad wrap, which the zoo is paying for, will be placed on the bus sometime next week, Van Beek said.

The Moorhead City Council unanimously approved the advertising agreement on May 28 meeting, according to council minutes.

Mattie’s parents, father Yukiko and mother Shantou, are 8 years old and were imported by the Red River Zoo in 2007 from Japan.

The Red River Zoo is a leading breeder of the threatened Red Pandas and has bred one-fourth of the captive species in North American zoos, Tate said.

Now that Mattie is the zoo’s ambassador, he’ll likely never leave Fargo, Tate said. In the future, if he’s needed for breeding, a female will be brought to him, she said.

“They are cute. They do all the adorable things,” Tate said. “But also they’re a species that needs help and we’ve been good at that, and we’re proud of that.”

The zoo is open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518