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San Francisco: Red panda exhibit makes its zoo debut

A new red panda exhibit will open at the San Francisco Zoo. One of its residents is 11-month-old Tenzing.

Meet San Francisco’s newest heartthrob, a red-headed charmer named Tenzing.

Tenzing, 11 months old, is a red panda who makes his home at the San Francisco Zoo. He'll be the star of a new red panda exhibit that's set to open at 10 a.m. Saturday.

Bay Area philanthropists Barry and Marie Lipman bestowed his name on him by bidding $31,000 at Zoofest, an annual fundraiser. They chose Tenzing in honor of Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, who scaled Mt. Everest with Edmund Hillary in 1953.

The cat-size red panda doesn't look like the black-and-white giant pandas, raising the question of whether it is a panda at all, because it really looks more like a raccoon down to its bushy tail.

"The red panda has given scientists taxonomic fits," National Geographic writes on its website. "It has been classified as a relative of the giant panda, and also of the raccoon, with which it shares a ringed tail. Currently, red pandas are considered members of their own unique family -- the Ailuridae."

What is clear is that their numbers have dwindled. The World Wildlife Fund has estimated that only 10,000 remain as humans encroach on their environment in the Himalayas and eastern Asia.

Info: San Francisco Zoo, Sloat Boulevard and the Great Highway. Adult admission: $17. (Discounts are available for seniors, children and San Francisco residents.)

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