Panda came from a Nepali word poonya which means animals which feed on bamboo. I’m quite sure that you have seen this creature. If not a picture a caricature of it. It is the symbol of the web browser Mozilla Firefox. Well, the Chinese name of red panda is Hunho, which translates to firefox. It was previously considered to be related to Giant Panda but now it is considered as the sole member of an entirely different family called Ailuridae.
It somewhat resembles a racoon. A Red Panda is not so big like a conventional Giant Panda. It is slightly bigger than the domestic cat, reddish brown in colour with the abdomen and the feet being slightly darker or somewhat black. The white fur on it face makes it more or less like a soft toy. The one distinct part of this animal is its tail. It can grow from about 30 to 50 centimeters and is very furry. Most probably they use it to cover themselves up during extremely cold conditions. It also helps stem to maintain balance. But unlike most monkeys, their tail is not prehensile, that means they cannot grasp the branches and hang like monkeys do.
Red pandas are found in the Eastern Himalayas. It is the state animal of Sikkim. Mostly found between high rocks and trees. They literally have god level agility. They spend most of their time in trees and are active during the darker hours of the day. Like their relatives they also have taste for bamboos. But that’s not all they eat. They also consume fruits, acorns, roots and eggs. They have an extended wrist bone which works like thumb. This gives them better grip.
As cute as it can be, one is always tempted to keep it as a pet. But it is strictly illegal to keep a red panda as a pet.
The distribution of red pandas and their parts move from east to west in the mountain forests, with Kathmandu being the major hub for illegal trade. In collaboration with enforcement agencies, we have been able to apprehend local poachers and middlemen who are involved in collection and transportation. But this is where the trail goes cold. We have little information on who the black market suppliers are and where these red pandas are being exported to, says Red Panda Network
There are only 10000 red pandas left in the wild and the population is also in decline. Why is the population decreasing? Well, one of the main reason is habitat loss. The forests are being cleared out at an unprecedented rate for collecting firewood. Most of the people in Sikkim use wood as fuel for cooking food.
Also, Dogs, diseases. Feral dogs not only hunt down these pandas but at the same time act as vectors for transferring diseases to the pandas. Another reason would be climate change. Yes, Climate change. These little cute pandas can survive on a very low temperature range to which it can adapt. The rate at which the temperature is rising cause the pandas to search for higher elevation in order to cope up with their narrow temperature range. Unfortunately 70% of the higher elevated forests are outside protected areas which make them more vulnerable to being illegally traded.
Most of the illegal trading is although seen in Nepal. According to Wildlife Crime Control Bureau of Nepal, 90% of the wildlife crime goes unreported.
As far as their natural mortality is concerned, their life spa is about 12- 14 years and their natural predators are snow leopards, martens and birds of preys and small carnivores which feed on the smaller cubs. Their natality rate is very slow which makes it extremely important to conserve these little dummies.
Adult red pandas rarely interact with each other outside of the mating season. During the mating season, scent-markings increase, and the female invites the male to mount her on the ground. Males leave their scent by urinating or rubbing their anogenital area on trees. Both males and females may mate with more than one partner in a season.
Mating season is early winter. Births occur in the spring and summer, with most newborns arriving in June. Litters range from one to four young. The gestation period of the red panda is approximately 134 days. Females become noticeably heavy and lethargic around six weeks before parturition. Several days before parturition, the female begins to carry nest materials (sticks, grass, leaves) to a suitable nest site. In the wild, a nest may be a hollow tree or a rock crevice. In captivity, a box, hollow logs, or other artificial dens can serve as a nest. All births usually take place between 4 PM and 9 AM, which is the period of highest activity.
Do they have societies? Not really. The only time they associate with other pandas is during the mating season. Now, why are they so important to conserve?
1. Global Warming: Red pandas are important because they contribute to clean air and water for 500 million people. This is because they help sustain a healthy forest. Red Pandas live in temperate climates, usually bamboo and hollow trees with an average temperature of 10 to 25 degrees Celsius. The Forests range from Nepal to southwest China. If these forests function properly, then we can guarantee a healthy life for the people, animals and plants of South Asia.
2. Unique Biology: The Red Panda is the only species of its kind in the world. Their behavior is unique and they are specialists in their environment. They also have no close living relatives!
Red Pandas play an important role in the ecosystem and it would be a great loss if they became extinct. If the red panda becomes extinct, many negative effects are to occur. One negative impact would be that, the ecosystem that the red pandas live in would become less biodiverse causing problems for animals in this ecosystem. For example, the red panda’s predator, snow leopard and yellow-necked martens will have less choice of food which could reduce the population of those predators and give them a harder time to survive. Another negative effect is that the soil in the ecosystem that the red pandas are part of won’t be as rich in nutrients because the red panda takes in only ¼ of the nutrients in a bamboo due to their weak digestive system. This means that ¾ of the bamboo’s nutrients are released back and when decomposed, the nutrients will return to the ground.