International Red Panda Day 2020

The red panda (Ailurus fulgens) is a small mammal species. Their current status is that they are considered to be part of their own distinct and unique family ~ the Ailuridae.

They are reddish-brown with a mostly white face, with tear marks extending from their inner eyes to the corners of their mouth, large round heads, short snouts, and large pointed ears with a long fluffy striped red and white tails. Their front legs are shorter than their back legs which gives them their characteristic waddling gait. They also possess very sharp semi-retractile claws which allow them to vertically climb up and down trees, and also as a fierce defense.

Red Panda
Red panda

The red panda has been classified as a distant relation of the giant panda, and also of the raccoon, with which it shares the same long, bushy, ringed tail. 

Red pandas are also known as the lesser panda, true panda, common panda, cat-bear, bearcat, Himalayan raccoon, fox bear, and firefox.   They were first thought to be a relative of the raccoon family, due to their similarities (head, teeth, and ringed tail). Later it was thought they belonged to the bear family.   Recent genetic research has reclassified them in their own family, Ailuridae, and they have no living relatives. 

It is believed that a French zoologist, Frédéric Cuvier first described the red panda in 1825, about 48 years before the giant panda was discovered. It was the most beautiful animal he had ever seen, and he named it Ailurus fulgens, which means ‘fire-coloured’. 

Size

When fully-grown their height is up to 63 cm tall and 35 – 48 cm in length from head to the tip of their tail. Lifespan in the wild is around 8 – 10 years, and 15 years in captivity.

Habitat

Red pandas are endemic to the temperate forests of the Himalayas at elevations of 2200 – 4800 m. Their habitat is in the high – altitude tropical rainforests in the mountains of Nepal, central China, and northern Myanmar. They spend most of their life in trees, eating and sleeping. During the colder weather, they wrap their thick fluffy tail around themselves for warmth.

Red Panda high up in a tree
Tree dwelling red panda
Diet

Their staple diet is green leafy bamboo, but they will also eat other kinds of plants, roots, fruits, and eggs from other animals and birds. A single red panda can eat up to 2 kg of bamboo in a day. They are most active at dawn and dusk and spend much of their day sleeping. They are nocturnal hunters.

Red Panda enjoying its bamboo
Enjoying its bamboo
Reproduction

Red pandas will begin producing cubs around 18 mths of age. They will give birth annually in the spring and summer after a gestation of approximately 115 – 145 days.  Females can birth up to 4 cubs but often will only have twins. The cub’s eyes and ears remain closed for up to two to three weeks. The cubs remain in their den with their mother who will nurse them for around 22 weeks old. Red pandas reach maturity around 18 – 20 months. 

 Chengdu Panda Research Centre, China
Young red panda
Conservation status

Endangered ~ numbers decreasing. It is currently estimated that there are only 10,000 left in the wild. 

Threats 
  • Primarily humans  
  •  Poaching – for pets in China and Myanmar
  • Illegal wildlife trade -body parts for making fur caps and hats 
  • Hunting – getting caught in traps meant for other animals such as wild pigs and deer.
  • Habitat loss – due to deforestation and clearing of bamboo trees for tourism, agriculture, and increasing population, mining, logging, the introduction of non-native species 
  • Fragmented habitats – due to the building of roads and railroads through their habitats
  • Natural predator the snow leopard (Panthera uncia). If threatened the red panda will flee by climbing rocks or trees.  Once they are cornered, they will rear up on their hind legs to make themselves appear larger and will use their sharp claws on their front paws to defend themselves.
Red Panda

 

References

https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/red-panda

https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/714/110023718

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