The raccoon-like red panda (above) arrived last month from Johannesburg Zoo as part of an exchange programme and will share an enclosure in the Safari's Yangtze River zone with the giant pandas. (ANN/The Straits Times/Wildlife Reserves Singapore)
Giant pandas Kai Kai and Jia Jia may be the headlining acts at the upcoming River Safari but the supporting cast members are no lightweights either.
The giant-panda enclosure at Singapore's latest tourist attraction will also feature two red pandas - an endangered species.
The raccoon-like animal was once thought to be from the same family as the giant panda because they have eye patches, share a fondness for bamboo and thrive in high-altitude forest habitats in central China.
But red pandas are reddish- brown and the size of house cats, while black-and-white giant pandas can weigh up to 150kg.
The red panda is also known for its long bushy tail, while giant pandas have tufts for tails.
A spokesman for Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), the parent company of the River Safari, said genetic studies have shown that red pandas are more closely allied to the raccoon and weasel families.
They are considered members of their own unique family - the Ailuridae - and can be found in China, Nepal, India, Bhutan and Myanmar. Logging has destroyed much of their natural habitat and fewer than 10,000 are left.
Home for the two giant pandas and two red pandas will be the Yangtze River zone at the River Safari, a $160 million, 12ha river theme park that will be officially unveiled in the first quarter of next year.
The two red pandas arrived last month and will move in first. They came from Johannesburg Zoo in South Africa as part of an exchange program. Kai Kai and Jia Jia will land next month and the public will be able to see them and the red pandas in December.
The two species will share a 1,225 sq m climate-controlled enclosure - about the size of three basketball courts - with a temperature of 18 to 22 degC and a humidity level of 50 to 60 per cent year-round.
They will be separated by rock walls and visitor boardwalks.
"The red panda exhibit, just like the giant pandas', has naturalistic features such as plants, trees and logs to allow the red pandas to explore and climb," said the WRS spokesman.
The last time red pandas were in Singapore was in 1989 when they were on loan to the zoo.
Apart from the pandas, other unique animals at the River Safari will include the beaver, giant river otter and goonch catfish.
The eight river zones will be home to over 300 animal species and over 5,000 animals.
Eight zones based on world river systems
The River Safari - Asia's first and only river-themed wildlife park - will open in the first quarter of next year and will have eight zones inspired by well- known river systems.
1. Mississippi River (United States)
Observe beavers along the banks and see how animals such as the snapping turtle move underwater.
2. Congo River (central Africa)
Take a walk through dense rainforest, the home of dwarf crocodiles, which grow no bigger than 1.6m in length - the smallest among crocodiles.
3. River Nile (north-east Africa)
Underwater views will provide a close-up look at African tiger fish, giraffe catfish and the spiny eel.
4. Ganges River (India)
Visitors can immerse themselves "underwater" in a cross-section of the river set against a backdrop of the iconic Varanasi riverbank temple.
5. Murray River (Australia)
This freshwater river system will be home to Australia's native Murray cod, lungfish, frogs and terrapins.
6. Mekong River (South-east Asia)
Modeled after a floating Mekong village, the zone is home to animals such as the long-tailed macaque and giant Mekong catfish.
7. Yangtze River (China)
A re-creation of the high-altitude home of the giant panda. Highlights will include the two giant pandas on loan from China (Kai Kai and Jia Jia), two red pandas, Yangtze alligators and giant salamanders, all of which are endangered.
8. Amazon River (South America)
Take a 15-minute boat ride through the Amazon forest and catch sight of animals such as the tapir, jaguar, giant anteater and sloth.
This zone will also have a large freshwater tank offering a glimpse of life underwater, with fish meandering through tree roots.