RED PANDA FACTS
The main cause for the rapid decline in red panda population is habitat loss and degradation driven by human development, including deforestation for livestock, agriculture, and firewood or bamboo extraction, followed by hunting and poaching. Other threats include encounters with stray dogs and people, often children, who disturb the habitat and might even try to catch an animal, resulting in deaths, particularly of young red pandas.
Official numbers suggest that the Chinese red panda population has been halved since the 1960s, the actual decline might be even faster. In some parts of Nepal and India the forests have disappeared entirely. Clear cutting for firewood or agriculture, whether shifting cultivation or permanent, removes old trees that provide maternal dens and decreases the ability of some species of bamboo to regenerate. Deforestation can inhibit the natural mobility of red pandas and exacerbate the natural population subdivision by topography and ecology, leading to severe fragmentation of the remaining wild population. Small groups of less than 40 individuals with little opportunity for exchange between them risk inbreeding, decreased genetic diversity, and even extinction. In addition, the natural bloom and death cycles of bamboo that removes their entire food source once every 10 years or so can wipe out a population group that previously could have moved to another area, if it has become isolated by habitat fragmentation.
International and national laws introduced over the past 30 years in all five countries the red pandas inhabit now prohibit the hunting and trading of red pandas, though cases of poaching continue. Use in traditional ceremonies and weddings has declined, but they are still hunted for their skin and bushy tails for hat production. The number of captured red pandas sold to zoos has decreased substantially in recent years, but private collectors still pay exorbitant prices – and in some parts of Nepal and India red pandas are kept as pets.
Protecting the red panda goes hand in hand with protecting its habitat. Many local people depend on the red panda’s habitat for their survival, protection from floods or droughts, and firewood and timber. These people are not opposed to change, they lack viable economic alternatives. In addition to the creation of protected areas the communities in and around them need to be educated about and actually receive the benefit of red panda conservation. This includes better income from wildlife tourism, higher incomes from sustainably cultivated medicinal plants.
Established in 2005, the Red Panda Network (RPN) is the only global charity dedicated to the conservation and welfare of all red pandas. It defends these remarkable creatures against the many threats they face, through awareness campaigns, field research, advice to governments, carbon mitigation, and community-based conservation projects. RPN helps to create a world where red pandas and the unique landscape they represent continues to exist for future generations.
The red panda’s bamboo diet is very unusual for a genetically carnivorous mammal. When the weather is warm enough, they also eat insects and fruit. While the giant panda eats almost every part of the bamboo plant (except the roots), the red panda only eats the youngest, most tender shoots and leaves. The red panda chews the bamboo thoroughly, whereas the giant panda hardly chews at all.
Red pandas are approximately 560 to 625 mm long, with relatively long, furry tails, from 370 to 472 mm long. The tails are marked with about 12 alternating red and buff rings, and are not prehensile. The head is round; the rostrum is shortened; and the ears are large, erect, and pointed. Long, coarse guard hairs cover the body, and the undercoat is soft, dense, and woolly. The body is darker in eastern specimens. The face is predominantly white with reddish-brown "tear" marks under the eyes. The fur on the upper side of its body is reddish-brown, while ventrally it is glossy black. The legs are black and the soles of its feet are covered with dense, white hair. There is no sexual dimorphism in color or size between males and females.Front legs are angled inward, leading to its waddling walk. The feet are plantigrade.
The red panda has a robust skull with a poorly developed zygomatic arch, sagittal crest, and postorbital process. The palatines extend beyond the level of the most posterior molar, the mesopterygoid fossa is constricted anteriorly, and the auditory bullae are small. The post glenoid process is large and anteriorly recurved, and an alisphenoid canal is present.