Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 88 – The Red Panda


Two young red pandas in a tree

Photographer: Aconcagua

“The earth we abuse and the living things we kill will, in the end, take their revenge;  for in exploiting their presence we are diminishing our future”
Marya Mannes

Native to the Himalayan foothills, and arguably one of the most heart-melting little bears on the planet, the red panda has seen a big rise in popularity lately, and ‘awwws’ and ‘ahhhs’ galore follow wherever it is seen. But, just like its namesake, the giant panda, man is robbing the red panda of its basic needs in the wild – food and shelter. Throughout most of the red pandas range, theRed panda sleeping in a tree by Aconcagua trees it nests in and the bamboo it eats have disappeared. With over ninety per cent of its diet made up of something which is now in very short supply, hunger now looms.

The red panda’s striking red fur has made it a much sought after clothing item in some parts of China and Myanmar. And, red panda fur hats are still very popular in Bhutan. The killing of red pandas is highly illegal across its range, but the poaching continues, often unchecked.

But… at least what is left of the population can sleep easy in their nests tonight – the International Fur Trade Federation doesn’t do red panda any more!! Lucky red pandas!! Red panda

To veer slightly off topic for a moment – anything else, of course, is fair game to these self-serving, greedy and ruthless fur traders, who somehow seem to be missing the point.
To quote from the International Fur Trade Federation website:  

“Wild fur is only taken from abundant species”
“Over 85% of fur sold today is farmed”
“The legitimate fur trade does not trade in endangered species”
These are not principles. These are hoodwinking statements attempting to justify their egregious activities.  Surprisingly, they have the full approval of the IUCN.

Advocating, and profiting from, the breeding of animals solely for the purpose of killing them for their coats, or snatching animals from the wild simply because there are more than enough to go round, and then wallowing in the ill-claimed  glory of  avoiding using endangered species, does not make this barbaric trade any more acceptable. It simply serves to illustrate  how wide a range of species are targeted,  and how there is such a total lack of any form of moral compass involved.

baby red panda sleeping in treeBut, back to the red panda itself.  Also known as the lesser panda or red cat-bear, these little bears are not much bigger than the average domestic cat.  They have rust-coloured fur on top with black legs and undersides, long bushy ringed-tails and cream-coloured markings on the face, and cream to white ears.  Their fur is thick and covers their entire bodies including the soles of their feet.  In winter they wrap their long, fluffy tails around themselves maintain heat.  They have a low metabolic rate to further ensure their survival in extreme temperatures.  A red panda can lose up to fifteen per cent of its body weight during the winter months.

Red pandas have semi-retractable claws and a thumb-like wrist projection for gripping bamboo. Their wrap-round tails also act as a balancing tool when moving through the trees.  And, sweetly, red pandas dip their paws into water to drink.

Red pandas spend most of their waking time looking for and eating bamboo.  They nibble away at it one leaf at a time.  They have flattened teeth and well-developed chewing muscles.  They are excellent tree climbers, and are most active during the day.  If called upon to defend itself, the red panda will stand upright on its hind legs and show its sharp, ready to strike claws.

Red Panda mother and baby huggingRed pandas are shy and solitary except when mating.  Females (sows or she-bears) birth once a year. They build nests in hollow tree trunks or small caves.  There is a gestation period of about one hundred and thirty-five days followed by the birth of one to four cubs.  Baby red pandas weigh an average of one hundred and ten grams when born.  They have fluffy cream and grey fur and their eyes and ears tightly closed.  They remain in their protective nests for roughly ninety days.  Only their mothers care for them.  Male red pandas (boars or he-bears) take little or no interest in the babies.  At six months old, the babies are weaned from their mother. Red panda friends Young red pandas grow relatively slowly, reaching adult size after one year.  They reach full maturity at eighteen months.  This pattern of growth results in an inability to recover efficiently from the devastating declines in population.  There is also a fairly high infant mortality rate.

Contrary to popular belief, the red panda is not closely related to the giant panda.  They are very distant cousins, sharing only the panda name and a penchant for bamboo.  Nor is the red panda related to the raccoon, with which it shares a ringed tail. Red pandas are considered members of their own unique family—the Ailuridae

The red panda is the state animal of the Indian state of Sikkim.

Natural Habitat
Subtropical and temperate bamboo forests at sites above four thousand feet.
Where
Bhutan, China, Myanmar, India and Nepal.
What they eat
Almost all of their diet consists of bamboo shoots and leaves, but, they will also eat fruit, grasses, acorns, roots, bird eggs and some insects.
Threats
Habitat destruction is the greatest threat across the red panda’s range.  In India, this threat is particularly significant.  Loss of habitat has been caused by the medicinal plant trade, grazing, logging, livestock competition and agricultural cropping. In Nepal ,in the Dhorpatan Hunting reserve (the only area in Nepal where licensed hunting is allowed) deforestation has occurred, red pandas are caught using snares, overgrazing of domestic cattle has impacted ringal bamboo growth, and herders and their dogs are damaging the population further. In China and Myanmar, the threat of poaching looms large. Pelts are commonly found in local markets.  In Bhutan, the pelts of the red panda are made into caps and hats.
Status: Endangered
The red panda (Ailurus fulgens) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Vulnerable (high risk of endangerment in the wild). The red panda is also listed under CITES Appendix 1  and Schedule I of the Indian Wild Life Protection Act 1972.   The exact numbers of red pandas left in the wild are not known, but, are said to be declining rapidly. Red pandas have been kept and bred successfully in captivity across the world. Management programs have been created in North America, Japan, Europe, Australia, and China.


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Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 38 – The Bengal Tiger


Bengal tiger

Photography by Nikolay Tonev

Description
One of the most persecuted creatures on the planet,  the Bengal tiger is also one of the most beautiful.  But greed and misguided myths are pushing the species to the brink of extinction.  Notwithstanding, it is still the most numerous tiger sub-species.

The Bengal tiger is a powerful killing machine.  One reported kill demonstrated this power when a Bengal took down, killed and dragged away a gaur  –  the largest living bovine.  These beasts weigh over a ton, so that’s quite some feat.  Bengals, like other tigers, hunt at night, killing their prey by severing the spinal cord, via a bite to the nape of the neck, or suffocating the prey by a bite to the throat.  Death is usually quick and painless.  Once dead, the prey is dragged to cover for consumption.  Tigers can gorge their way through sixty pounds of meat in one go.  If any is left, they cover the kill and save it for later.  Not known for their efficiency in hunting, they need to get as much down as possible before the next meal, which may elude them for several days.  They also have the longest canine teeth of any extant big cat, three to four inches.

They are swift runners, excellent swimmers, hugely successful climbers and can leap great distances of over thirty feet.  Like domestic cats, they purr.  Purring can either denote happiness or pain.  Their almighty roar can be heard over a distance of two miles, allowing for communication with other tigers.

The largest of all living cats, there is no doubt these animals are a considerable size.  The male of the species can grow to ten feet in length and weigh up to six hundred and fifty pounds.  The females are slightly smaller and less heavy.  The unique appearance makes the tiger instantly recognisable. It has an orange coat with black stripes (no two have exactly the same stripes) and white patches on the face and neck with a white underside.

There is no specific mating season for tigers, it’s an all year round event, but November to April seems quite popular. The gestation period is one hundred and three days, after which a litter of up to six cubs are born.  Sadly, there is a very high mortality rate within the first year of their lives.  Those that do make it will stay with their mothers until they are about eighteen months old.

Habitat
Both tropical and subtropical rainforests, deciduous forests and scrub forests, alluvial grasslands and mangroves.
Where
Most are found in India with lesser populations in Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, China and Myanmar.
What they eat
Larger prey such as deer and wild cattle, and smaller hoofed prey including antelope, wild pigs and boar.  Though not strictly part of their natural diet, they have also been known to eat humans.
Threats
Poaching:  The tiger has been slaughtered for centuries because, according to the tenets of Chinese medicine, their bones and other parts have extensive healing properties.  As a result they are in high demand.  Skins are traded on the black market and fetch a considerable amount, as do the body parts.   Habitat loss due to illegal logging and plantations building is also playing a large part in their dwindling numbers.  Human/tiger conflict arises frequently.
Status: Endangered

The Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered, and on  Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora  (CITES).   In the 1970s game reserves were created.  These worked well for a short period of time and numbers became more stable. But, the potential profit involved in poaching is so great, it took hold once more, putting the Bengal at risk again.  Unless extensive and robust support is put in place, this species will no longer survive in the wild.   The World Bank is currently, amongst others, addressing this and making a significant contribution to the future of tigers in general.

“The first law of ecology is that everything is related to everything else”
Barry Commoner

Recommended reading:   As Tigers Near Extinction, a Last-ditch Strategy Emerges