- Status: Vulnerable
- Known as: Red Panda, lesser panda, firefox.
- Estimated numbers left in the wild: Less than 10,000 adults.
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Though the red panda’s coat – marked very handsomely in russet, black, and white – might appear to be decorative, it is in fact camouflage for this small mammal’s habitat, where red moss and white lichen clings to the moist tree branches.
These arboreal (tree-dwelling) creatures are the size of a stocky domestic cat, weighing 3 to 6 kilograms and measuring 50 to 60 centimeters long. Both sexes are approximately the same size.
Their large, fluffy tails, striped in white and red, provide balance in the trees and can be wrapped over the animal in cool or cold weather for warmth and protection from the elements.
Crepuscular and nocturnal, red pandas sleep the daylight hours away high in the branches, wrapped snugly in their tails, before awakening to forage when the sun sets, and the light dims.
They eat bamboo frequently – and, in fact, have a special wrist-bone projection to help grip bamboo shoots – but have a more varied diet than their distant cousins, the giant pandas. They will also rob birds’ nests for the eggs, eat flowers, bark, grass, mushrooms, and consume leaves and berries.
They walk with a distinctive waddle on the ground thanks to their short front legs but are far more agile in the trees where these animals spend most of their lives. They have a low, sloth-like metabolism due to the inferior nutritive qualities of bamboo.
Red pandas are solitary creatures and meet only briefly to mate before parting again. Young red pandas are born in nests prepared by their mothers inside hollow trees or in rock crevices. Each typical female red panda builds several of these nests so that the young pandas can be moved regularly between them.
Occasionally, a male will stay around to help care for his offspring, but most do not. Red pandas are fully mature in around two years and can live as long as 15 years, though most seem to live for eight to ten, assuming they do not fall victim to humans or other predators.
See Related: Greater Bamboo Lemur
Red pandas are found in China, Tibet, India, Bhutan, Nepal, and Myanmar. They live on cool, temperate slopes with dense bamboo forest supplying their main food. Rainy, mountainous areas are their preferred habitat, and they remain in these areas throughout the winter, too. They cannot live in the lowlands since moderate heat is dangerous to them.
See Related: Environmental Organizations in India
Red pandas are Hunted and poached for the supposed medicinal qualities of its various body parts. These animals are still killed to make “lucky” hats for weddings.
The biggest menace looming in the red panda’s near future is deforestation and habitat fragmentation due to logging and the spread of farming. Populations are becoming scattered and isolated, leading to the risk of losing viability and perhaps dying out due to inbreeding.
See Related: Why Is Biodiversity Important to Ecosystems
The red panda is under official government protection nearly everywhere throughout its range, excepting Myanmar, though enforcement is often quite weak. A network of zoos around the globe is undertaking a captive breeding program for future reintroduction efforts.
Even more, attempts to create a safer future for the red panda are planned, particularly by the Mustelid, Viverrid, and Procyonid Specialist Group of the IUCN. Wildlife corridors to link fragments of habitat, detailed studies of red panda distribution for effective placement of new reserves, and more captive breeding are planned or recommended.
See Related: Conservation vs. Preservation
Red Panda Network
Red Panda Network is an organization dedicated to the conservation of red pandas in the wild. Their main aim is to educate the local communities to protect the species.