With their beautiful rusty red and white coloring, and fluffy striped tails; Red Pandas are, unfortunately, ideal pets for those profiting from the exotic pet trade. These endangered animals even make a cute noise called twittering; whistle, and make a quacking sound when expelling breath. Those keeping red Pandas as pets might think mistakenly that Red Pandas are mild tempered, but they are still wild animals, and can become afraid and aggressive.
Today, there are less than 10,000 adult animals left in the wild, making them an endangered species, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The IUCN reports Red Panda populations have declined by half, and it is expected to get worse.
Also called the Red Bear-cat, Red Pandas are not really pandas. They live mainly in the Himalayas and China. Red Pandas superficially resemble raccoons, but they are only the size of house cats. They also have a waddling gait, because their front legs are shorter than their hind legs. However, the Red Panda’s natural environment is in temperate Asian forests, and they are acrobatic in the tree canopy.
Habitat destroyed by man
Deforestation in favor of farming and logging has severely reduced the Red Panda’s habitat. Even when only part of a Red Panda’s forest is cut down, it can mean that populations begin to interbreed. This is because the fragmentation of forests leads to mating Pandas being unable to reach each other.
After forests are logged, and crops planted or domesticated animals like yaks are raised, several things can happen to further endanger Red Pandas. Humans can harvest and use bamboo for their own purposes, domesticated animals can trample it, dogs arrive that carry disease, and also attack Red Pandas.
Although hunting of Red Pandas is illegal in China, it does not stop black market trade. Red Pandas are prized because their pelts are considered good luck. Their fluffy tails are often used in hats. And their body parts are also used in traditional medicine. Snare and metal traps commonly catch Red Pandas and they are inadvertently critically injured by trappers. Traps are most often set to harvest wild pig or deer meat, or to get rid of wolves or bears.
Two species of Red Pandas
Red Pandas are in their own special genus called Ailuridae, and also in the raccoon’s Musteloidea broad superfamily which includes skunks and weasels. Over 100,000 years ago, the Himalayan and Chinese Red Pandas diverged and became two different species. The Chinese Red Panda is larger and darker. While its cousin in the Nepalese Himalayas, has a whiter face. The red color of their coats is a form of camouflage, enabling Red Pandas to hide in among the reddish mosses coniferous or fir trees.
Red Pandas have five toes on each clawed foot. Their claws are semi-retractable, and curved in a way allowing them to climb trees efficiently. A Red Panda’s ankles swivel, allowing them to climb down trees headfirst. On their front paws, they also have a sort of thumb that allows them to grasp bamboo easily. Other than man, Red Pandas are predated upon by leopards, martens, large birds, and jackals.
Bamboo, the Red Pandas dietary staple, is not easily digestible. To maximize nutrition, Red Pandas concentrate on eating new leaves and shoots. They require over 5 kg of them daily. Their diets are also supplemented by insects, eggs, berries, roots, grasses, small rodents, and birds. These nocturnal animals are thought to live between eight and twelve years.
Babies born in late winter and early spring
In the wild, Red Pandas are territorial, and do not gather together except to mate. Mating season is late winter to early spring, and typically one or two cubs are born after about 3.5 to 5 months. Before birth, mothers typically use moss, lichen, leaves and grasses to line nests in holes in trees, tall bamboo or tree stumps. Newborns weigh about three or four ounces. Cubs are born blind, and do not wander outside of dens until they are three months old. Red Pandas are sexually mature at 18 months.
When in captivity Red Pandas are difficult to breed. Even when kept in the same cage, a fertile male and female do not necessarily mate and have cubs. Fearful mother Red Pandas can also ignore or harm their cubs, making zoo workers hand rear and feed babies.
The Red Panda Network
The BBC has reported that a Red Panda project is underway near Mount Kangchenjunga, in Nepal, to track Red Pandas using GPS collars. The information concerning how far each animal ranges is expected to be valuable in conservation efforts. Camera traps have also been deployed to follow the four males and six females. Currently, it is thought that each Red Panda will have a home range of one square mile, and males will have larger ranges during mating season. In this program, the Red Panda Network conservation group is joined by scientists, veterinarians, and the Nepalese government.
The World Wildlife Organization advises that about 40% of the world’s Red Pandas live in the Nepal Langtang National Park; and as a Nepal Fulbright Scholar, in 2002-2003 Brian Williams was only one of ten people, studying the Red Panda. He then founded the Red Panda Network, which has many locally-based initiatives. One of their programs is The Forest Guardians who educate neighboring people, report poaching to government enforcement, and remove traps and snares.
RPN also has a Nursery Guardians program to grow bamboo and other medicinal plants for deforested areas, and provides jobs. The program sells seeds and greenhouses to help local farmers, and educates them concerning sustainable practises.
Rather than use bamboo for cooking stoves and heating, RPN is assisting locals with selling bio-briquettes. These are made of the burned ashes from yak dung. Not only is this a sound ecological practise, RPN assists them with improved cookstoves, designed to pollute less. Another of the RPN many programs, involves assisting local people who wish to stay out of the Red Panda’s habitat. Rather than going to ponds to gather potable water, RPN is providing RO (Reverse Osmosis) filters to clean drinking water.
The Pegasus Foundation
The World Wildlife organization and the Pegasus Foundation fundraise in order to support the IUCN’s Red Panda saving recommendations. The recommendations include planting bamboo, reducing livestock and improving habitat management, requiring tourist visas–and discouraging tourists during Red Panda mating season; and increasing fire protection initiatives–like the Red Panda Network’s own initiative.
The IUCN also recommends the enforcing and stiffening of anti Red Panda hunting and poaching laws, and lauds programs that breed animals in captivity. It is also important to reduce Panda diseases, and predation resulting from interference by man. It recommends vaccination of owned dogs, and control of roving wild dogs.
Fund raising by the Rainforest Trust has meant new opportunities for Red Pandas in Nepal. In 2018, land was purchased next to the Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve, and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance site, and will be patrolled by The Red Panda Network’s Forest Guardians. This means species like the Ganges River Dolphin, the Red-crowned Roofed Turtle, Pangolins, Cloud Leopards, Dholes, sheeplike Himalayan Tahrs, and many other vulnerable animals will have larger territories.
In Myanmar, the Rainforest Trust has purchased acreage, and successfully created the over 386,000 acre Imawbum National Park along the border with China. Red Pandas, Myanmar Snub-nosed Monkeys, Eastern Hoolock Gibbons, Northern Pig-tailed Macaques, Clouded Leopards, Stump-tailed Macaques, and Sun Bears are expected to benefit.
Singalila National Park, India
As well as Nepal, Red Pandas are also found in Bhutan, Myanmar and near the border of India in West Bengal. Sangay Tamang of the department of humanities and social services at the Indian Institute of Technology in Guwahati, has documented problems concerning the new Singalila National Park in India. Tamang praises the Rainforest Trust in Nepal, but points out that India has come short in attempts to save the Red Panda and Pangolin. As the park is located along the
Indian/Nepalese border, it is easy for illegal smugglers to steal the endangered animals, and smuggle them using the traditional trade route to China.
In spite of efforts to reintroduce Red Pandas in the park–as many as eight hand-reared Red Pandas were reintroduced in Singalila, Tamang says the species is not growing in numbers. Cross border cooperation, as well as education of locals, is needed to have significant effects. Poverty is also rife in the area, and it is difficult to re-educate locals, who are in need of jobs.
Red Panda Conservation India
In India, studies are being done concerning the Kangchendozonga and Western Arunachal areas concerning Red Panda distribution, habitat mapping, agricultural and human population growth, as well as investigating how man affects Red Panda populations by trapping, poaching, and letting dogs run free. The Red Panda Conservation group also lobbies Indian governments, ensures proper management of protected areas, tries to reduce firewood gathering, trains guides who help tourists, and tries to raise awareness concerning Red Panda issues locally.
The Toronto Zoo
In the summer of 2020, a new female Red Panda cub was born to mother Ila and father Suva, in the Toronto Zoo. In October, it was reported that a contest choosing a name for the baby had come up with a winner. After more than 7,000 people voted, Adira, meaning strong, was chosen.
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