“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”
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, the 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!!
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.
But, 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 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. 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.
Subtropical and temperate bamboo forests at sites above four thousand feet.
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.
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.
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.
Stop Illegal Poaching of Red Pandas (Petition)
Red Panda Cubs Debut at Wildlife Conservation Society Zoos