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Red Panda With Parasitic Infection Euthanized At National Zoo

<p>Photo: Carlos Delgado</p>

On Monday, the Smithsonian National Zoo announced that the red panda, Shama, had been euthanized due to severe brain swelling. According to the zoo's website,"The swelling is attributed to encephalitis associated with a microscopic parasite."

The female red panda began showing signs of deterioration last Wednesday, as handlers noticed she didn't finish her meal and seemed less attentive to her cubs. Soon after she became extremely lethargic and began head-bobbing, which is apparently symptomatic of a neurological disorder in red pandas. She was euthanized on Saturday.

Shama had just given birth last month, and her cubs are now being hand-reared by experienced zoo staff.

Shama nursing her cubs. (Washington Post)

It is unclear how Shama was infected with the disease, although parasitic encephalitis is generally caused by toxoplasmosis, an infection due to a parasite found in infected food.

The National Zoo has been under some scrutiny this past year over certain animal welfare concerns, which are outlined in a report conducted by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. The report describes several incidents of dubious animal welfare practices, including the deaths of a red river hog and lesser kudu, and an attack made on a zoo employee by a Grevy's zebra.

The National Zoo has not yet responded to The Dodo's request for comment.