The Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens), which occurs in a narrow range extending west to Nepal and east to southwestern China, is the only extant species in the family Ailuridae. The evolutionary affinities of this species remain uncertain, with morphological and molecular phylogenetic data having led various researchers to conclude that it is most closely related to Procyonidae (raccoon family), Ursidae (bears), or ursids plus seals, among other possibilities. As of 2013, it appears that Ailuridae is sister to a clade consisting of (Procyonidae + Mustelidae), with Mephitidae basal to (Ailuridae + Procyonidae + Mustelidae) (Eizirik et al. 2010; Nyakatura and Bininda-Emonds 2012; Sato et al. 2012). The Red Panda is no longer believed to be closely related to the Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), although it shares with the Giant Panda a bamboo diet and certain associated morphological peculiarities (bamboo leaves constitute around 80 to 90% of the Red Panda's diet).
Red Pandas are found in temperate forests of the Himalayas and in the mountains of northern Burma and western Sichuan and Yunnan at elevations of 1500 to 4800 meters (and even up to the snowline at 5000 meters in summer). In Meghalaya (northeastern India), they have been found in tropical forests at much lower elevations, between 1700 and 1400 meters. Red Pandas are found in forests with a thick bamboo understory. Around half of the geographic range falls within China.
Except during the mating season, Red Pandas are generally solitary. They are well adapted for climbing and spend much of their time off the ground.
At least in China, Red Panda populations declined dramatically in the latter part of the 20th century. The greatest threats to Red Panda populations are habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching, and trade in live animals, although Red Pandas are legally protected in China, India, Bhutan, and Nepal and protected areas with Red Pandas have been established in all these countries.
The current Red Panda distribution is detailed in three Population and Habitat Viability Analyses (PHVAs) since 2010, covering all range states holding the species: Nepal (2010), China and Myanmar (2012), and India and Bhutan (2013). As discussed by Roberts and Gittleman (1984),Red Pandadistribution range should be considered disjunct, not continuous. Reports, including a shot animal of undoubted identification and provenance, of a population on the Meghalaya Plateau of northeastern India, in anomalously tropical habitat (Choudhury 2001, Duckworth 2011) warrant investigation as soon as possible. CaptiveRed Pandas from the main distribution and habitat do not breed well in tropical conditions (Princee and Glatston in prep); the Meghalaya Red Pandas, if native, might be a separate taxon.
In NepalRed Pandahas been reported from 23 districts, but a number lack confirmed specific records. A further district, Darchula, contains suitable habitat but so far lacks any Red Panda reports. The westernmost global reports are from the Api Nampa Conservation Area and Khaptad in far western Nepal (Jnawaliet al. 2012), but specific verifiable records there have not been traced since the 2010 PHVA,even though local people had affirmed Red Panda in these areas in the recent past. Two post-PHVA surveys failed to find the species in either area (H.P. Sharma pers. comm. 2011,A. Thapa pers. comm. 2014). The westernmost confirmed records are from Kalikot and Jumla at about 81E (Dangol 2014); both are west of the formerly accepted range. In Bhutan it is found in 13 districts (Haa, Thimphu, Paro, Punakha, Wangdiphodrang, Gasa, Trongsa, Zhemgang, Bumthang, Mongar, Lhuntse, Trashigang and Trashiyangtse); high-elevation areas in other districts (Chukha, Tsirang, Dagana, Samtse and Samdrupjongkhar) require further surveys (Dorjii et al. 2012). In India it is found in only three states: Sikkim, West Bengal and Arunachal Pradesh. In Myanmar it is known only from the northernmost state, Kachin, and is locally distributed even there (Than Zaw et al. 2008). In China it is found in three provinces, Sichuan, Yunnan and Tibet. Sichuan is its main homeland. In this province its range extends through the Minshan and Liangshan to Qionglai and the Lesser and Greater Xiangling mountains (Wei et al.1999, 2011). It is believed to be extinct in the rest of its historical range in China, e.g. Guizhou, Gansu, Shaanxi and Qinghai provinces (Wei et al. 1999). The Xiaoxiangling population appears isolated from the other A. f. styani population(s). It is a small population and represents a different genetic type that should be considered as a separate conservation unit (Hu et al. 2011).
Red Panda wasstated to inhabit Lao PDR by Cheminaud (1942) and Deuve (1972). Re-examination of Cheminaud (1942) reveals many significant internal inconsistencies and flaws. Hence, there is no evidence that Red Panda has ever occurred in Lao PDR (Duckworth 2011).
Red Panda occurs in a narrow altitude band. Roberts and Gittleman (1984) gave a range of 2,5004,000 m asl. Prater (1948) mentioned occurrence down to 1,500 m asl and Choudhury (2001) gave a typical range of 1,5004,800 m asl, up to nearly 5,000 m asl in the summer. However all recent publications, excepting those discussing animals from Meghalaya, support the Roberts and Gittleman range as that typically occupied, notwithstanding sporadic reports above 4,000 m asl and down to 2,300 m asl. The occupied altitude varies across the range. This might result from any of: disturbance at lower altitudes; time of year of assessment (several authors indicate that Red Pandas migrate seasonally up and down the mountainside; e.g., Yonzon and Hunter 1991); aspect (with animals occurring higher on the warmer south-facing slopes); and potentially other factors.
Red pandas are found throughout the Himalayan mountains between 2,200 and 4,800 meters in elevation in northern Burma, Nepal, Sikkim region of India, and the districts of western Sichuan and Yunnan in China. Their geographic range is bounded in the north by the Namlung Valley in the Mugo District and the Lake Rara region of northern Nepal, in the south by the Liakiang Range of western Yunnan, and the northern and eastern boundary is the upper Min Valley of western Sichuan. (Roberts and Gittleman 1984)
Biogeographic Regions: oriental (Native )
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.
The mandible is robust but relatively short, and the mandibular symphysis is constricted. The coronoid process is strongly hooked posteriorly, and the mandibular condyles are large.
Premolar one and molar one and two are wider than they are long and have accessory cusplets. Each upper premolar has more than one cusp, and premolar three has a well developed paracone and hypocone.
(Morris 1965, Vaughan 1972, Roberts and Gittleman 1984)
Range mass: 3.7 to 6.2 kg.
Range length: 560 to 625 mm.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike
Average basal metabolic rate: 4.898 W.
Habitat and Ecology
Red Panda is closely associated with montane forests (oak mixed; mixed broad-leaf conifer; and conifer) with dense bamboo-thicket understorey (Roberts and Gittleman 1984). Conifer/fir forests seem to be preferred (Yonzon and Hunter 1991). Habitats above the tree-line are probably not consistently occupied given that Red Panda is essentially arboreal (Choudhury 2001). A dead Red Panda at 4,325 m asl in Arunachal Pradesh, in an area where the species is not generally known and far from any typical Red Panda habitat, was presumably a dispersant (Dorjee et al. 2014).
Six studies reported that Red Panda prefers to live near (typically within 100200 m of) water (e.g., Pradhan et al. 2001). Five indicated a preference for canopy cover above 30%, with some suggesting cover as high as 7080% may be preferred. Three suggested a preference for slopes of below 45%. Several indicated a preference for slope aspect: most suggest avoidance of south-facing slopes in favour of the cooler climate of the north, northwest and northeast aspects (Yonzon and Hunter 1991, Pradhanet al. 2001,Mahato 2004,Mallick 2010,Jhoshi and Sangam 2011,Subedi and Thapa 2011,Dorji et al. 2012, Panthiet al. 2012, Zhou et al. 2013, Sharmaet al. 2014). In the Sagamartha National Park, Red Panda was found on south-facing slopes in only one of six study areas, at lower density than at similar altitudes on north-facing slopes. In another area where both north- and south-facing slopes had otherwise similar habitat, Red Panda was found only on the north-facing slopes (Mahato 2004). Only in China have there been reports that Red Panda prefers south-facing slopes (e.g., Zhou et al. 2013). All studies investigating aspect took place in a similar altitude range. Also in China, in contrast to the rest of the range, steep slopes of more than 45% seemed preferred. Perhaps this relates to sympatry with Giant Panda Ailuropoda melanoleuca(in the Minshan, Qionglai, Liangshan, Daxiangling and Xiaoxiangling ranges in western Sichuan; Wei et al. 1999a, 2000), which uses the more gentle slopes. Zhang et al. (2008) found that Red Panda prefers microhabitats with higher densities of fallen logs and tree stumps.
Red Panda is largely vegetarian, eating chiefly young leaves and shoots of bamboo. It also takes fruit, roots, succulent grasses, acorns, lichens, birds' eggs and insects (Hodgson 1847, Sowerby 1932). It is largely arboreal (Hodgson 1847).
Gestation in captivity lasts 114145 days (Northrop and Czekala 2011), suggesting a variable delay in embryo implantation. The animals breed once per year giving birth in the summer (late May to early August in northern hemisphere zoos). In captivity, litter sizes range from one to four, most commonly one to two; quadruplets are exceedingly rare. In the field, Yonzon and Hunter (1991) reported litters usually of singletons or twins. The young are sexually mature at 18 months and females can give birth for the first time around their second birthday. In captivity the generation length is around five to six years and its average longevity around 1214 years. This slow reproductive rate and relatively long generation time are typical of a k-selected species, adapted to a stable environment and less capable of survival when that environment starts changing rapidly.
Red pandas live in temperate climates in deciduous and coniferous forests. There is usually an understory of bamboo and hollow trees. The average temperature is 10 to 25 degrees Celsius, and the average annual rainfall is 350 centimeters. (Glatston 1994, Roberts and Gittleman 1984)
Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: forest ; mountains
Red pandas eat berries, blossoms, bird eggs, bamboo leaves, and the small leaves of other plants. Bamboo (the leaves of which are the red panda's primary food source) is bent down to bring the leaves within reach of the mouth. Food is grasped in a forepaw and brought to the mouth while sitting, standing, or lying on the back. Food grasped in this manner is inserted in the side of the mouth, sheared, then chewed extensively before it is swallowed. (Glatston 1994, Roberts and Gittleman 1984)
Animal Foods: eggs
Plant Foods: leaves; seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit; flowers
Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore )
If threatened, red pandas climb a tree or strike out with their semi-retractile claws. One of their primary predators is the snow leopard (Uncia uncia).
- snow leopards (Uncia uncia)
The red panda, often called a firefox, doesn’t closely resemble most foxes. These arboreal mammals live in a variety of trees in Nepal, Tibet, northern India, Bhutan, Burma, Sichuan, and China. The red panda is an unusual member of Carnivora because it feeds mainly on bamboo leaves (Pradhan et al., 2001). Red pandas occur in temperate forests at elevations from 2,000–4,300 m, but are most common at 2,400–3,700 m in coniferous fir (Abies densa) forests with undergrowth of bamboo (Yushania microphylla ,Y. maling, Thamnocalamus spathiflorus and Arundinaria; Dorji et al., 2012). There are many features of the red panda that resemble a raccoon, such as its omnivorous tendencies, and its facial appearance. As a result, the red panda has been alternatively placed in the raccoon family (Procyonidae) or the bear family (Ursidae), but it now has its own unique family, the Ailuridae (Wozencraft, 2005).
The red panda diet resembles that of the giant panda, Ailuropoda melanoleuca. They also like to lounge in trees and eat bamboo, as giant pandas do. There are many different trees used for shelter. Tree use has been determined by finding red panda scat on and around trees. Presence of more scat and observation of red pandas indicate that the most important tree species (Williams, 2004), including stone oaks (Lithocarpus pachyphylla), frodin (Schefflera impressa), cup and saucer magnolia (Magnolia campbellii), and whitebeam (Sorbus cuspidata). Humans (Homo sapiens) have expanded into red panda habitat creating harsh environments and leading to some shifts in food selection (Dorji et al., 2012). Red pandas can feed on fruit, roots, succulent grasses, mushrooms, acorns, lichens, bird eggs, insects and grubs (Dorji et al., 2012). The bamboo leaves red pandas eat mainly come from two different species of bamboo (Arundinaria maling and A. aristata). Bamboo shoots are also utilized for food when available. Some examples of seasonal fruits are: hill partridge (Actinidia strigosa), sorbus (Sorbus microphylla), and himalayan rose (Rosa sericera).
Life History and Behavior
Red pandas exhibit several visual displays during intraspecific interactions, including arching the tail and back, the slow raising and lowering of the head while emitting a low intensity puffing, turning the head while jaw-clapping, shaking the head from side to side, a bipedal posture with forelegs extended above the head, and staring.
Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Other Communication Modes: scent marks
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
The maximum lifespan of the red panda is 14 years, but the average is eight to ten.
Status: wild: 14 (high) years.
Status: wild: 8 to 10 years.
Status: captivity: 13.4 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
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 System: polygynandrous (promiscuous)
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 take place between 4 PM and 9 AM, which is the period of highest activity.
The young attain adult size at around 12 months, and are sexually mature at around 18 months.
(Roberts and Gittleman 1984)
Breeding interval: Red pandas breed once yearly.
Breeding season: Mating occurs in early winter.
Range number of offspring: 1 to 4.
Average gestation period: 134 days.
Average time to independence: 18 months.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 18 months.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 18 months.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; viviparous
Average birth mass: 100 g.
Average gestation period: 116 days.
Average number of offspring: 2.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
Sex: male: 550 days.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
Sex: female: 550 days.
After birth, females quickly clean their young and remain with them for 60 to 90 % of the time for the first few days. Mothers recognize their young by olfactory cues established shortly after birth. After one week, females spend more time away from the nest, returning every few hours to nurse and groom their young, and to keep the nest clean. The young remain nest-bound for around 90 days. They make their first excursion from the nest at night. The young and mother share a close relationship until the young becomes aggressive at the onset of the next breeding season. Males have a small or nonexistent role in raising and caring for the young.
Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female)
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Ailurus fulgens
Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Ailurus fulgens
Public Records: 5
Specimens with Barcodes: 8
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
The Ailuridae comprises a monospecific family. In part for this reason of conservation priority, with the evidence of precise decline rate being inadequate for certain discrimination between Vulnerable and Endangered, the precautionary course is taken of categorisation as Endangered, pending more precise information.
- Vulnerable (VU)
- 1996Endangered (EN)
- 1994Vulnerable (V)
- 1990Insufficiently Known (K)
- 1988Insufficiently Known (K)
Red pandas are threatened by deforestation and other human activities. Deforestation eliminates nesting sites and sources of food, and isolates populations into small fragments separated by inhospitable habitats. Ailurus fulgens is the occasional target of game hunting, and it is often found in traps set for musk deer. Red pandas are also outcompeted by local livestock for food. Expanding human populations in Asia and the increasing need for land and lumber are significant threats to the survival of this species. Red pandas are protected and listed in Appendix II of the Convention on the International Trade in Threatened and Endangered Species, and were declared endangered in March 1988. (Glatston 1994, Roberts and Gittleman 1984)
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: appendix ii
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: vulnerable
Red Panda was estimated to be more common in the eastern part of its range, especially along the Myanmar-Yunnan border, yet it cannot be considered a common species (Roberts and Gittleman 1984). There have been four undertakings to estimate, per country, the area of occupied habitat and from this the approximate Red Panda population: Choudhury (2001), Mahato (2010), the recent Population and Habitat Viability Analyses (PHVAs; held in Nepal in 2010, China in 2012, and India in 2013) and Kendal et al. (2015). These show very little concordance (see Table 1 in theSupplementary Material) and whilst some differences might reflect real change between earlier and later assessments, most must stem from differing assumptions and techniques. The PHVA figures are taken here as the most realistic guides, although none has been corrected for suitability of gross area of broadly suitable habitat accounting for specific preferences. Yet Red Panda is selective in forest used with regard to level of annual rainfall, percentage canopy cover, and density of bamboo (e.g., Yonzon et al.1991, Dorji et al. 2012, Zhouet al. 2013). These would ideally all be taken into account when estimating area of potential habitat. In addition, Red Panda is usually found near water-courses and in areas with many tree stumps, and apparently prefers medium-gradient or shallower, north-facing slopes. In combination, these factors will make the area occupied at average to high densities substantially below that of potential habitat. For example, taking into account forest type, altitude, precipitation and slope aspect, Yonzon et al. (1991) estimated only 68 km2 of the 1,719 km2 Langtang National Park to comprise suitable Red Panda habitat.
Regardless of the uncertainty of actual area occupied, increases in human population and the continuing spread of human activity has driven habitat loss and degradation since the assessment of Choudhury (2001).
Nepal. In the most recent Red List for Nepal (Jnawali et al. 2012), Red Panda is considered to be 'Endangered' under C2a(i), with numbers low (317582 similar to the prediction by Yonzon et al. 1997) and a declining population fragmented into 11 subpopulations. These data are extracted from the PHVA report. Subsequent surveys of Api Nampa (Arjun Thapa pers. comm. 2014) and Khaptad (Hari P. Sharma pers. comm. 2011) did not confirm the survival of these two subpopulations. The following estimates of density/numbers have been reported:Rara: about one animal per 3 km2, mostly between 3,100 and 3,600 m asl because of fragmentation and disturbance below this, and reduced habitat suitability above; a maximum of 11 Red Pandas in a 35km2study area (Sharma 2008, Sharma et al. 2014). Langtang: one per 2.09km2giving a total of 68 Red Pandas in the park (Yonzon 1989), but Yonzon et al. (1991)reassessed the Langtang population at 24. This apparent decline, of 65% in less than two to three years, was probably real, reflecting high mortality resulting from anthropogenic disturbance in the park. Panchthar Ilam Tapeljung:one per 5.5km2 100 animals in 178km2(Williams 2003, 2004). Dhorpatan: animals present but no density or population estimates available. Most Red Pandas occur over 3,2003,400 m asl (Subedi and Thapa 2011) or 3,0003,800 m asl (Panthi et al. 2012), and suffer disturbance from local people for livestock and collection of forest products. Bhotkola:135km2good Red Panda habitat holds about 3046 Red Pandas (Joshi and Sangam 2011).
India: the states of Sikkim, West Bengal and Arunachal Pradesh. Participants in the 2013 PHVA calculated that the amount of habitat available for Red Panda in Sikkim and Arunachal was 6,400km2. More rigid constraints on assessing habitat as 'suitable' gave merely 2,600km2. Even with the more relaxed habitat conditions, this area is only half that proposed for India by Choudhury (2001), although the comparison is complicated by the non-availability of 2013 figures for West Bengal. Given the changes in land use in the last 20 year, the area of potential Red Panda habitat has undoubtedly declined, although direct comparison between PHVA data and those published by Choudhury is unwise: Choudhury estimated Red Panda habitat from forest service maps and national park maps, whereas the PHVA evaluation used current satellite imagery. In Sikkim, 225370 Red Pandas in 650km2of suitable forest were calculated by Ziegler et al. (2010); the PHVA estimate was of 44415. In West Bengal (not included in Table 1 in the Supplementary Material), a statement of 78 Red Pandas in Singalila (Pradhan et al. 2001) contrasts with a more recent one of 27 animals (Roka and Jha 2014) and a similar number stated by Bahaguna et al. (1998). This figure plus the 2832 animals stated to live in the Neora Valley by Mallick (2010) gives a total of 5560 Red Pandas in West Bengal. In Arunachal Pradesh there have been fewer site-specific studies. This state is presumed to hold the largest Red Panda population in India. According to Choudhury (2001) it was relatively common in Tawang and northern West Kameng districts and in the Mishmi Hills, especially Dibang Valley and Lohit districts. Ghose and Dutta (2011) reported sightings of Red Pandas fromseveraldistricts, all from before 2000. Habitat maps suggest that most Red Panda habitat is in the east of the state, with a second concentration in the west, around Tawang and Eaglesnest. The habitat between these two regions looks more sparse and fragmented.
Bhutan. Red Panda seems to be widely distributed, mostly at 2,4003,700 m asl. Bhutan is a very small country with a fast developing economy. The road system is expanding fast and the growing rural population depends on forest and forest products. Even in this country, the pressure on Red Panda habitat is marked.
Myanmar. The area where Red Panda is found (northern Kachin province) is remote, with recent locality records from Hkakaborazi National Park, Hponkanrazi Wildlife Sanctuary, Mount Majed and Emaw Bum, mostly above 3,000 m asl. The number of villager captures suggests the species may be common in Hkakaborazi National Park, but none was camera-trapped there despite substantial effort at suitable altitude (Than Zaw et al. 2008). Ngwe Lwin (pers. comm. 2014) believes Red Panda is still fairly common in the Emaw Bum region, albeit much disturbed by logging and hunting. Red Panda is presumably less common than formerly in Myanmar and, although apparently not specifically targeted by hunters, it is still caught and killed.
China. China is the only country for which the PHVA estimated much higher forest cover than did Choudhury (2001). Choudhurys (2001) estimates were supported by Wei et al. (1999, 2011). As Wei et al. (2011) reported, reforested lands (which are increasing, reflecting government policy) do not provide suitable Red Panda habitat. Red Panda perhaps decreased in China by as much as 40% in the second half of the twentieth century, through massive habitat loss, increased human activity and poaching (Wei et al. 1999). Wei et al. (1999) estimated 3,0007,000 Red Pandas in China.
Each of the three recentPopulation and Habitat Viability Analyses (PHVAs)listed the threats to Red Panda assessed to be most prevalent in their country/countries. Several problems occur throughout the species's range, albeit with some variation in assessed impact. The major threats are habitat loss and fragmentation; habitat degradation; and physical threats. These are all compounded by the region's increasing human population; climate change; natural disasters; inadequate enforcement of laws and regulations; mostly low political will and interest; political instability (in some regions); low coordination of stakeholders, funding and human resources; trans-boundary issues facilitating poaching, illegal collection of non-timber forest products, and Red Panda trade (skins and other body parts); and the movement of cattle herders/grazers during the breeding season.
Natural disasters include cyclones; landslides; floods; heavy snowfall and rainfall; bamboo flowering (which results in death of the plant and typically occurs synchronously across large areas); forest fires; poor regeneration of shelter trees; weed infestation and invasive alien species; and disease outbreaks. Although most of these have been in operation throughout Red Panda existence, their effects are increasingly severe as an ever-larger proportion of the distribution is outside contiguous habitat blockslarge enoughfor recolonisation to occur post-disaster.
In some areas, habitat is lost and degraded by commercial logging. In the Emaw Bum region of Myanmar morethan 5,000 km2 have been logged since 19992000, resulting in many new roads into mountain areas, e.g. between the May Hka river and the China border. These logging roads not onlydestroyhabitatdirectly, they also facilitate access for hunters and can destabilise the substrate. A recent video report from FFI shows two young Red Pandas crossing a landslide, the result of foreign road-building in the area.
As human populations grow, more people move into mountain regions to live. They clear land for habitation, bring domestic herds to roam in the forests where they trample and eat bamboo. Herders collect bamboo for fodder and other necessities. The herds are protected by dogs that attack pandas and, if not vaccinated, potentially carry canine distemper, fatal to Red Panda. The lack of annual vaccination in India, at least, leads to a high incidence of canine distemper in dogs of one to five years of age (Latha et al. 2007). Spillover of canine distemper into wild species is already well documented, such as to Indian Fox Vulpes bengalensis (Vanak et al. 2007) and Tiger Panthera tigris(e.g. Goodrich et al. 2012).
Himalayan bamboos, the Red Pandas dietary staple, are sensitive to environmental degradation, deforestation, fire and overgrazing (Stapleton 1996). Reduced canopy cover increases wind and water stress for the bamboo. In these situations, seedlings are destroyed by the harsh conditions coupled with grazing pressure.
Reports of Red Panda poaching and smuggling seem to be increasing, perhaps through demand in China.F. Momberg (pers. comm. 2010)saw Red Panda carcases and skins invillagers'homes in eastern Myanmar. One hunter allowed him to accompany him while he caught a Red Panda with his hands; apparently these villagers regularly take Red Pandas. Wildlife trade is rampant in Myanmar (about 30 tons of wildlife products per month), facilitated by wildlife habitat proximity to the Chinese border. Before Red Panda was upgraded to Appendix I of CITES in the early 1990s, individuals captured in Myanmar were traded by China to zoos around the world.
Ang Phuri Sherpa (pers. comm. 2015) reported an increase in illegal trade over the preceding three years, based on the number of poachers and traders caught in Nepal. These incidents mostly involved skins and the items were headed for China. One incident involved a live Red Panda. A general increase in interest in Red Panda skins and meat in China could fuel more trade. A US businessman reported Red Pandas on offer in a restaurant. In the 'Threats' discussions during the 2012 Red Panda PHVA in China, many Chinese participants indicated that Red Panda meat was fairly widely available in restaurants, although no details are available.
The live Red Panda trade, for pets, also seems to be increasing. Ian Lee (Chinese representative for Red Panda Network, pers. comm. 2015) found several reports in Chinese newspapers and social media of Red Pandas for sale as pets. This corroborates indications that Red Panda is increasing in popularity as a pet in China and other Asian countries, notably Thailand (YouTube videos and Instagram photos).
Ngwe Lwin (pers. comm. 2014) considers hunting and poaching the major threat to the Red Panda in Myanmar, in two ways: in one area, Red Panda is not a target species but is caught in iron traps, and some of skins are traded; in another, live Red Pandas are traded to China, motivating local people to go to catch them whenever they have time.
The Red Panda is included in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Appendix I (www.cites.org). It is listed in Schedule I of the Indian Wild Life (Protection) Act 1972, the highest protection possible for a species in India (Choudhury 2001). It is also legally protected in Bhutan, China (where it is classed as a Category II species under the Wild Animal Protection Law; Wei et al. 1999a), Nepal (Glatston 1994) and Myanmar (by the Wildlife Act of 1994). In China, the species is Red Listed nationally as 'Vulnerable' under A2ace. In the most recent Red List for Nepal (Jnawaliet al. 2012), Red Panda is considered to be 'Endangered' under C2a(i),
In Myanmar it is found in at least three protected areas: Hkakaborazi National Park, Hponkanrazi Wildlife Sanctuary and Emaw Bum proposed National Park. It is difficult to determine how much of the Red Pandas range in the country these protected areas cover. Hunting and, in Emaw Bum, logging are widespread within their confines.
In Bhutan it is found in the following protected areas: Jigme Dorji, Thrumshingla and Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Parks, Bumdeling and Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuaries, Toorsa Strict Nature Reserve, biological corridors connecting these reserves, and the biological corridor connecting Thrumshingla and Royal Manas National Parks. It has also been recorded in the Royal Botanical Park, Khaling Wildlife Sanctuary and Wangchuck Centennial Park (Dorji et al. 2012). Potential Red Panda habitat in the country modelled using MAXENT and ArcGIS 9.3 revealed 46% of predicted Red Panda habitat is under protected areas (PAs), 16% is in biological corridors and 38% lies outside the PA system. However, even protected areas are subject to activities such as road construction, livestock grazing, subsistence agriculture (slash-and-burn in some areas), collection of forest resources such as timber and NTFPs, and domestic dog presence.
In India it is found in 19 protected or otherwise managedareas: Lachung Reserve Forest, Kanchendzonga National Park (NP), Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary,the buffer and transition area of the latter two,Maenam Wildlife Sanctuary (WLS), Pangolakha WLS, Kyongnosla Alpine Sanctuary, Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary, Singalila NP, Neora Valley NP, Kamlang WLS, Eaglesnest WLS, Zemithang Valley Community Forest, Nuranang Valley Community Forest, Mehao WLS, Mandla-Phudung CF, Anjaw Reserve forest, Mechuka-West Siang CF, Mouling NP and Dibang WLS. It might also inhabit Taley Valley WLS, Pakhui WLS and Sessa Orchid Sanctuary. These protected areas cover about one-third of the speciess total potential habitat in India (Choudhury 2001). In the 2013Population and Habitat Viability Analysis (PHVA)workshop, 22 protected areas (outside Meghalaya) were identified as having potential habitat for Red Panda, some with only very small areas. Furthermore, the workshop participants identified medium to high levels of threat in these areas fromtwo or more of development activities; fire; herders; firewood and non-timber forest product collection; illegal trade/'accidental' hunting; dogs (very prevalent); refuse; and habitat reduction. In Arunachal Pradesh (the state believed to have the largest Red Panda population in India) around 60% of the forest is under community ownership rather than having PA status. Also in Sikkim, 60% of potential Red Panda habitat falls outside the PA system. Enforcement of protective legislation, especially outside protected areas, is almost non-existent (Choudhury 2001).
China has 46 protected areas containing Red Panda (Wei et al. 2011), covering about 65% of the speciess habitat in China. Poor law enforcement in PAs was listed as a problem during the 2012 PHVA workshop (Wei et al. 2014). Livestock grazing and collection of non-timber forest products occur widely in these areas.
Red Panda has been confirmed in nine of Nepals PAs: Sagarmatha NP; Makalu Barun NP; Langtang NP; Rara NP; Kangchenjunga Conservation Area (CA); Annapurna CA; Gaurishankar CA; Manaslu Conservation Area; and Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve. In all these PAs, habitat loss and degradation, poaching and dog problems and developmental activities have been rated as moderate to severe by participants in the Red Panda PHVA workshop (Jnawali et al. 2012).
Currently there is a GlobalSpeciesManagement Plan (GSMP) for Red Pandas held in zoos around the world. This plan is closely allied tocurrent fieldconservation efforts. The three PHVAs were largely the initiative of, and funded by, the zoo community. The aims of the GSMP are to contribute both directly and indirectly to Red Panda conservation by: providing a genetically and demographically sustainable and behaviourally competent back-up population for the wild population; holding the potential to supply individuals for genetic or demographic supplementation or reintroduction programmes; educating and the raising of public awareness of Red Panda, its uniqueness and conservation needs; and providing financial, technical, scientific and other support and expertise to the planning and implementation of in situ conservation and research
Priority conservation actions fall into four main categories:
1. To protect against habitat loss: improve and manage Red Panda habitats (including within corridors); improve connectivity, including across international borders; balance developmental activities by promoting eco-friendly and sustainable development with minimal impact on Red Panda habitat; increase areas under protection; implement better Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Initial Environmental Examination (IEE) for all development programmes; engage political willingness and win support; develop and implement landscape-level conservation policy, identifying unprotected Red Panda habitat andmaking legal provision for the declaration of Red Panda Community Conservation Areas.
2. To reduce habitat degradation: restore degraded habitats, plant bamboo; regulate tourism by the use of entry permits; zone PAs to definerestricted-access zones in core areas for Red Pandas, facility zones, and resource use zones, with restricted visitor access during the breeding season (set quotas fornon-timber forest products); educate, sensitise, and promote community participation to reduce and mitigate threats to Red Panda and its habitat; promote the use of alternative energy and building materials; provide sustainable livelihoods; enhance range-land management, using native species; reduce livestock numbers, especially ofunproductive breeds; develop an integrated agriculture, pasture and agroforestry system; develop proper rubbish disposal systems; improve community stewardship in natural resources management; improve fire-fighting, in part by training communities, developing a national fire fighting strategy, ensuring PAmanagement plans include comprehensive coverage of forest fire (the implementation of a fire strategy including forest fire alert and monitoring system, forest fire mapping and zoning, provision of fire fighting equipment, and controlled burning to prevent fires).
3. To reduce deaths of Red Pandas:strengthen law enforcement and improve physical protection; enhance transboundary cooperation on both of the former; strengthen coordination/collaboration between line agencies and other stakeholders; implement a reward and punishment system both for communities and forest department; establish anti-poaching units (in community forests and PAs) with capacity building for front-line, anti-poaching staff; train customs officials; reintroduce captive-bred individuals to reinforce local populations; formulate a dog management plan to control, sterilise and vaccinate dogs; engage army personnel in border bases to keep their dogs in check and not let them roam free in Red Panda areas.
4. To improve awareness: design and implement a dedicated awareness programme using radio, pamphlets, posters, and documentary film; secure adequate funding; improve conservation education (with a focus on Red Pandas) in schools; establish/strengthen Green Force Clubs; implement a Red Panda research programme, identifying priority research topics, and including regular monitoring of its habitat; develop a trans-national Project Red Panda.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Red pandas have no negative impact on humans. (Glatston 1994)
Red pandas are important socially, scientifically and economically. They are the national animal of Sikkim and the mascot of the International Tea Festival in Darjeeling. Red panda skins are used to used for hats and their tails as dusters. Furthermore, red panda skin may still be worn by the bridegroom in a local Chinese wedding. Red pandas have been pivotal in research on the taxonomy of the families Ursidae and Procyonidae. Ailurus fulgens is illegally hunted and sold to zoos or killed for their skin. Very few zoos purchase these illegal specimens, making this a fairly unproductive business, but skins can be found in local villages and are used in cultural ceremonies.
Positive Impacts: body parts are source of valuable material; ecotourism ; research and education
The red panda (Ailurus fulgens), also called lesser panda,red bear-cat and red cat-bear, is a small arboreal mammal native to the eastern Himalayas and south-western China that has been classified as vulnerable by IUCN as its wild population is estimated at less than 10,000 mature individuals. The population continues to decline and is threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching, and inbreeding depression, although red pandas are protected by national laws in their range countries.
The red panda is slightly larger than a domestic cat. It has reddish-brown fur, a long, shaggy tail, and a waddling gait due to its shorter front legs. It feeds mainly on bamboo, but is omnivorous and also eats eggs, birds, insects, and small mammals. It is a solitary animal, mainly active from dusk to dawn, and is largely sedentary during the day.
The red panda is the only living species of the genus Ailurus and the family Ailuridae. It has been previously placed in the raccoon and bear families, but results of phylogenetic research indicate strong support for its taxonomic classification in its own family Ailuridae, which along with the weasel, raccoon and skunk families is part of the superfamily Musteloidea. Two subspecies are recognized. It is not closely related to the giant panda.
- 1 Physical characteristics
- 2 Distribution and habitat
- 3 Biology and behavior
- 4 Threats
- 5 Conservation
- 6 Domestication
- 7 Phylogenetics
- 8 Local names
- 9 Cultural depictions
- 10 Footnotes
- 11 References
- 12 Further reading
- 13 External links
The head and body length of red pandas measures 50 to 64 cm (20 to 25 in), and their tail is 28 to 59 cm (11 to 23 in). Males weigh 3.7 to 6.2 kg (8.2 to 13.7 lb) and females 3 to 6.0 kg (6.6 to 13.2 lb). They have long, soft reddish-brown fur on the upper parts, blackish fur on the lower parts, and a light face with tear markings and robust cranial-dental features. The light face has white badges similar to those of a raccoon, but each individual can have distinctive markings. Their roundish head has medium-sized upright ears, a black nose, and very dark eyes: almost pitch black. Their long bushy tail with six alternating yellowish red transverse ochre rings provides balance and excellent camouflage against its habitat of moss- and lichen-covered trees. The legs are black and short with thick fur on the soles of the paws. This fur serves as thermal insulation on snow-covered or ice surfaces and conceals scent glands which are also present on the anus.
The red panda is specialized as a bamboo feeder with strong, curved and sharp semi-retractile claws standing inward for grasping of narrow tree branches, leaves and fruit. Like the giant panda, it has a “false thumb” that is an extension of the wrist bone. When descending a tree head-first, the red panda rotates its ankle to control its descent, one of the few climbing species to do so.
Distribution and habitat
The red panda is endemic to the temperate forests of the Himalayas, and ranges from the foothills of western Nepal to China in the east. Its easternmost limit is the Qinling Mountains of the Shaanxi Province in China. Its range includes southern Tibet, Sikkim and Assam in India, Bhutan, the northern mountains of Burma, and in south-western China, in the Hengduan Mountains of Sichuan and the Gongshan Mountains in Yunnan. It may also live in south-west Tibet and northern Arunachal Pradesh, but this has not been documented. Locations with the highest density of red pandas include an area in the Himalayas that has been proposed as having been a refuge for a variety of endemic species in the Pleistocene. The distribution range of the red panda should be considered disjunct, rather than continuous. A disjunct population inhabits the Meghalaya Plateau of north-eastern India.
During a survey in the 1970s, signs of red pandas were found in Nepal's Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve. Their presence was confirmed in spring 2007 when four red pandas were sighted at elevations ranging from 3,220 to 3,610 m (10,560 to 11,840 ft). The species' westernmost limit is in Rara National Park located farther west of the Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve. Their presence was confirmed in 2008.
The red panda lives between 2,200 and 4,800 meters (7,200 and 15,700 ft) altitude, inhabiting areas of moderate temperature between 10 and 25 °C (50 and 77 °F) with little annual change. It prefers mountainous mixed deciduous and conifer forests, especially with old trees and dense understories of bamboo.
Distribution of subspecies
Distribution of the red panda is disjointed, with two extant subspecies:
- Western red panda A. f. fulgens (Cuvier, 1825) lives in the western part of its range, in Nepal, Assam, Sikkim and Bhutan
- Styan's red panda A. f. styani lives in the east-north-eastern part of its range, in southern China and northern Burma.
Ailurus fulgens styani has been described by Thomas in 1902 based on one skull from a specimen collected in Szechwan. Pocock distinguished A. f. styani from A. f. fulgens by its longer winter coat and more abundant blackness in the pelage, bigger skull, more strongly curved forehead, and more robust teeth. His description is based on skulls and skins collected in Szechwan, Myitkyina close to the border of Yunnan, and Upper Burma.
The Styan's red panda is supposedly larger and darker in color than the Western member of the species, but with considerable variation in both subspecies, and some individuals may be brown or yellowish brown rather than red.
The Brahmaputra River is often considered the natural division between the two subspecies, where it makes a curve around the eastern end of the Himalayas, although some authors suggest A. f. fulgens extends farther eastward, into China.
Biology and behavior
The red panda is territorial; it is solitary except during mating season. The species is generally quiet except for some twittering, tweeting, and whistling communication sounds. It has been reported to be both nocturnal and crepuscular, sleeping on tree branches or in tree hollows during the day and increasing its activity in the late afternoon and early evening hours. It sleeps stretched out on a branch with legs dangling when it is hot, and curled up with its tail over the face when it is cold. This panda is very heat sensitive, with an optimal “well-being” temperature between 17 and 25 °C (63 and 77 °F), and cannot tolerate temperatures over 25 °C (77 °F).
Shortly after waking, red pandas clean their fur like a cat, licking their front paws and then rubbing their backs, stomachs and sides. They also rub their backs and bellies along the sides of trees or rocks. Then they patrol their territories, marking with urine and a weak musk-smelling secretion from their anal glands. They search for food running along the ground or through the trees. Red pandas may alternately use their forepaws to bring food to their mouths or place food directly into their mouths.
Predators of the red panda include the snow leopard, martens (Mustelidae), and humans. If they feel threatened or sense danger, they may try to escape by climbing a rock column or tree. If they can no longer flee, they stand on their hind legs to make themselves appear larger and use the sharp claws on their front paws to defend themselves. The red panda Futa became a visitor attraction in Japan for his ability to stand upright for ten seconds at a time.
Red pandas are excellent climbers, and forage largely in trees. They eat mostly bamboo, and may eat small mammals, birds, eggs, flowers and berries. In captivity, they were observed to eat birds, flowers, maple and mulberry leaves, and bark and fruits of maple, beech and mulberry.
Like the giant panda, they cannot digest cellulose, so they must consume a large volume of bamboo to survive. Their diets consist of about two-thirds bamboo, but they also eat mushrooms, roots, acorns, lichen and grasses. Occasionally, they supplement their diets with fish and insects. They do little more than eat and sleep due to their low-calorie diets.
Bamboo shoots are more easily digested than leaves, exhibiting the highest digestibility in summer and autumn, intermediate digestibility in the spring, and lowest digestibility in the winter. These variations correlate with the nutrient contents in the bamboo. Red pandas process bamboo poorly, especially the cellulose and cell wall components. This implies microbial digestion plays only a minor role in their digestive strategy. To survive on this poor-quality diet, they have to eat the high-quality sections of the bamboo plant, such as the tender leaves and shoots, in large quantities, over 1.5 kg (3.3 lb) of fresh leaves and 4 kg (8.8 lb) of fresh shoots daily. This food passes through the digestive tract fairly rapidly (about 2–4 hr) so as to maximize nutrient intake. Red pandas can taste artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, the only non-primate known to do so.
Red pandas are able to reproduce at around 18 months of age, and are fully mature at two to three years. Adults rarely interact in the wild except to mate. Both sexes may mate with more than one partner during the mating season from mid-January to early March. A few days before birth, females begin to collect material, such as brushwood, grass, and leaves, to build a nest, which is normally located in a hollow tree or a rock crevice. After a gestation period of 112 to 158 days, the female gives birth in mid-June to late July to one to four blind and deaf cubs weighing 110 to 130 g (3.9 to 4.6 oz) each.
After birth, the mother cleans the cubs and can then recognize each by its smell. At first, she spends 60% to 90% of her time with the cubs. After the first week, the mother starts spending more time outside the nest, returning every few hours to nurse and groom the cubs. She moves the young frequently among several nests, all of which she keeps clean. The cubs start to open their eyes at about 18 days of age. By about 90 days, they have achieved full adult fur and coloring, and begin to venture out of the nest. They also start eating solid foods at this point, weaning at around six to eight months of age. The cubs stay with their mother until the next litter is born in the following summer. Males rarely help raise the young, and only if they live in pairs or in small groups.
The average lifespan is between eight and 10 years, but individuals have been known to reach 15 years.
The primary threats to red pandas are direct harvest from the wild, live or dead, competition with domestic livestock resulting in habitat degradation, and deforestation resulting in habitat loss or fragmentation. The relative importance of these factors is different in each region, and is not well understood. For instance, in India, the biggest threat seems to be habitat loss followed by poaching, while in China, the biggest threat seems to be hunting and poaching. A 40% decrease in red panda populations has been reported in China over the last 50 years, and populations in western Himalayan areas are considered to be lower.
Deforestation can inhibit the spread of red pandas and exacerbate the natural population subdivision by topography and ecology, leading to severe fragmentation of the remaining wild population. Fewer than 40 animals in four separate groups share resources with humans in Nepal's Langtang National Park, where only 6% of 1,710 square kilometres (660 sq mi) is preferred red panda habitat. Although direct competition for food with domestic livestock is not significant, livestock can depress bamboo growth by trampling.
Small groups of animals with little opportunity for exchange between them face the risk of inbreeding, decreased genetic diversity, and even extinction. In addition, clear-cutting for firewood or agriculture, including hillside terracing, removes old trees that provide maternal dens and decreases the ability of some species of bamboo to regenerate.
In south-west China, red pandas are hunted for their fur, especially for the highly valued bushy tails from which hats are produced. In these areas, the fur is often used for local cultural ceremonies. In weddings, the bridegroom traditionally carries the hide. The "good-luck charm" red panda-tail hats are also used by local newly-weds. This practice may be quite old, as the red panda seems to be depicted in a 13th-century Chinese pen-and-ink scroll showing a hunting scene. Little or no mention of the red panda is made in the culture and folklore of Nepal.
Thanks to CITES, this number has decreased substantially in recent years, but poaching continues, and red pandas are often sold to private collectors at exorbitant prices. In some parts of Nepal and India, red pandas are kept as pets.
The red panda has a naturally low birth rate (usually single or twin births per year), and a high death rate in the wild.
The red panda is listed in CITES Appendix I. The species has been classified as vulnerable in the IUCN Red List since 2008 because the global population is estimated at about 10,000 individuals, with a decreasing population trend; only about half of the total area of potential habitat of 142,000 km2 (55,000 sq mi) is actually being used by the species. Due to their shy and secretive nature, and their largely nocturnal habits, observation of red pandas is difficult. Therefore, population figures in the wild are determined by population density estimates and not direct counts.
Worldwide population estimates range from fewer than 2,500 individuals to between 16,000 and 20,000 individuals. In 1999, the total population in China was estimated at between 3,000 and 7,000 individuals. In 2001, the wild population in India was estimated at between 5,000 and 6,000 individuals. Estimates for Nepal indicate only a few hundred individuals. There are no records from Bhutan or Burma.
Reliable population numbers are hard to find, partly because other animals have been mistaken for the red panda. For instance, one report from Burma stated that red pandas were still fairly common in some areas, and was accompanied by a photograph of a "red panda" as proof. The photograph in question depicted a species of civet.
The red panda is protected in all range countries, and hunting is illegal. Beyond this, conservation efforts are highly variable between countries:
- China has 35 protected areas covering about 42.4% of red panda habitat.
- India has 20 protected areas with known or possible red panda populations in Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and West Bengal such as Khangchendzonga National Park, Namdapha National Park and Singalila National Park, and a coordinated conservation policy for the red panda.
- In Nepal, known populations occur in Langtang National Park, Sagarmatha National Park, Makalu Barun National Park, Rara National Park, Annapurna Conservation Area, Kanchenjunga Conservation Area, and in Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve.
- Bhutan has five protected areas that support red panda populations.
- Burma has 26 protected areas, of which at least one hosts red panda populations.
In situ initiatives
A community-managed forest in Ilam District of eastern Nepal is home to 15 red pandas which generate household income through tourism activities, including home stays. Villagers in the high-altitude areas of Arunachal Pradesh have formed the Pangchen Red Panda Conservation Alliance comprising five villages with a community-conserved forest area of 200 km2 (77 sq mi) at an altitude of 2,500 m (8,200 ft) to over 4,000 m (13,000 ft).
The red panda is quite adaptable to living in captivity, and is common in zoos worldwide. By 1992, more than 300 births had occurred in captivity, and more than 300 individuals lived in 85 institutions worldwide. By 2001, there were 182 individuals in North American zoos alone. As of 2006, the international studbook listed more than 800 individuals in zoos and parks around the world. Of these, 511 individuals of subspecies A. f. fulgens were kept in 173 institutions and 306 individuals of subspecies A. f. styani were kept in 81 institutions.
The International Studbook is currently managed at the Rotterdam Zoo in the Netherlands. In cooperation with the International Red Panda Management Group, they coordinate the Species Survival Plan in North America, the European Endangered Species Programme in Europe and other captive-breeding programs in Australia, India, Japan and China. In 2009, Sarah Glass, curator of red pandas and special exhibits at the Knoxville Zoo in Knoxville, Tennessee, was appointed as coordinator for the North American Red Panda Species Survival Plan. The Knoxville Zoo has the largest number of captive red panda births in the Western Hemisphere (101 as of August 2011). Only the Rotterdam Zoo in the Netherlands has had more captive births worldwide.
|This article or section appears to contradict itself about whether these animals are kept as pets. (September 2014)|
Because the red panda is considered a very attractive animal, and is not much larger than a house cat, it would seem to be ideal for a pet. Despite this and reports of Indira Gandhi keeping red pandas as pets when she was a child, widespread adoption of these animals as pets has not been reported.
The taxonomic classification of the red panda has been controversial since it was discovered. French zoologist Frédéric Cuvier initially described the red panda in 1825, and classified it as a close relative of the raccoon (Procyonidae), though he gave it the genus name Ailurus, (from Ancient Greek αἴλουρος, "cat"), based on superficial similarities with domestic cats. The specific epithet is the Latin adjective fulgens, "shining". At various times, it has been placed in Procyonidae, Ursidae, with Ailuropoda in Ailuropodinae (until this family was moved into Ursidae), and in its own family, Ailuridae. This uncertainty comes from difficulty in determining whether certain characteristics of Ailurus are phylogenetically conservative or are derived and convergent with species of similar ecological habits.
Evidence based on the fossil record, serology, karyology, behavior, anatomy, and reproduction reflect closer affinities with Procyonidae than Ursidae. However, ecological and foraging specializations and distinct geographical distribution in relation to modern procyonids support classification in the separate family Ailuridae.
Recent molecular systematic DNA research also places the red panda into its own family, Ailuridae, which is in turn part of the broad superfamily Musteloidea that also includes the skunk, raccoon, and weasel families.
It is not a bear, nor closely related to the giant panda, nor a raccoon, nor a lineage of uncertain affinities. Rather it is a basal lineage of musteloid, with a long history of independence from its closest relatives (skunks, raccoons, and otters/weasels/badgers).—Flynn et al., Whence the Red Panda, p197
There are two subspecies, A. f. fulgens and A. f. styani. However, the name Ailurus fulgens refulgens is sometimes incorrectly used for A. f. styani. This stems from a lapsus made by Henri Milne-Edwards in his 1874 paper "Recherches pour servir à l'histoire naturelle des mammifères comprenant des considérations sur la classification de ces animaux", making A. f. refulgens a nomen nudum. The most recent edition of Mammal Species of the World still shows the subspecies as A. f. refulgens. This has been corrected in more recent works, including A guide to the Mammals of China and Handbook of the Mammals of the World, Volume 1: Carnivores.
The red panda is considered a living fossil and only distantly related to the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), as it is naturally more closely related to the other members of the superfamily Musteloidea to which it belongs. The common ancestor of both pandas (which also was an ancestor for all living bears, pinnipeds -the walrus and seals- and musteloids -raccoons, skunks, weasels, otters...) can be traced back to the Early Tertiary period tens of millions of years ago, with a wide distribution across Eurasia.
Fossils of the extinct red panda Parailurus anglicus have been unearthed from China in the east to Britain in the west. In 1977, a single tooth of Parailurus was discovered in the Pliocene Ringold Formation of Washington. This first North American record is almost identical to European specimens and indicates the immigration of this species from Asia. In 2004, a tooth from a red panda species never before recorded in North America was discovered at the Gray Fossil Site in Tennessee. The tooth dates from 4.5–7 million years ago. This species, described as Pristinailurus bristoli, indicates that a second, more primitive ailurine lineage inhabited North America during the Miocene. Cladistic analysis suggests that Parailurus and Ailurus are sister taxa. Additional fossils of Pristinailurus bristoli were discovered at the Gray Fossil site in 2010 and in 2012. The frequency with which panda fossils are being found at Gray Fossil Site suggests the species played a large role in the overall ecosystem of the area.
The discovery in Spain of the postcranial remains of Simocyon batalleri, a Miocene relative to the red panda, supports a sister-group relationship between red pandas and bears. The discovery suggests the red panda's "false thumb" was an adaptation to arboreal locomotion — independent of the giant panda's adaptation to manipulate bamboo — one of the most dramatic cases of convergent evolution among vertebrates.
Major General Thomas Hardwicke’s 1821 presentation of an article titled "Description of a new Genus of the Class Mammalia, from the Himalaya Chain of Hills Between Nepaul and the Snowy Mountains" at the Linnean Society in London is usually regarded as the moment the red panda became a bona fide species in Western science. Hardwicke proposed the name "wha" and explained: "It is frequently discovered by its loud cry or call, resembling the word ‘Wha’, often repeating the same: hence is derived one of the local names by which it is known. It is also called Chitwa." Hardwicke's paper was not published until 1827, by which time Frédéric Cuvier had published his description and a figure. Hardwicke's originally proposed taxonomic name was removed from the 1827 publication of his paper with his permission, and naming credit is now given to Cuvier.
Frédéric Cuvier had received the specimen he described from his brother's stepson, Alfred Duvaucel, who had sent it "from the mountains north of India". He was the first to use both the binomial Ailurus fulgens and the vernacular name "panda" in reference to the species in his description published in 1825 in Histoire Naturelle des Mammifères. Ailurus is adopted from the ancient Greek word αἴλουρος (ailouros), meaning "cat". The specific epithet fulgens is Latin for "shining, bright". Panda is the French name for the Roman goddess of peace and travellers, who was called upon before starting a difficult journey. Whether this is the origin of the French vernacular name panda remains uncertain. In later publications, the name is claimed to be adopted from a Himalayan language.
In 1847, Hodgson described a red panda under the name Ailurus ochraceus, of which Pocock concluded it represents the same type as Ailurus fulgens, since the description of the two agree very closely. He subordinated both types to the Himalayan red panda subspecies Ailurus fulgens fulgens.
The red panda's local names differ from place to place. The Lepcha people call it sak nam. In Nepal, the species is called bhalu biralo (bear-cat) and habre. The Sherpa people of Nepal and Sikkim call it ye niglva ponva and wah donka. The word wậː is Sunuwari meaning bear; in Tamang language, a small, red bear is called tāwām. In the Kanchenjunga region of eastern Nepal, the Limbus know red pandas as kaala, which literally means dark because of their underside pelage; villagers of Tibetan origin call them hoptongar.
Additionally, Pocock lists the vernacular names ye and nigálya ponya (Nepal); thokya and thongwa (Limbu); oakdonga or wakdonka and woker (Bhotia); saknam sunam (Lepcha). Nigálya may originate from the Nepali word निङालो niṅālo or nĩgālo meaning a particular kind of small bamboo, namely Arundinaria intermedia, but also refers to a kind of small leopard, or cat-bear. The word pónya may originate from the Nepali word पञ्जा pajā meaning claw, or पौँजा paũjā meaning paw of an animal. Nigálya pónya may translate to bamboo claw or paw.
In English, the red panda is also called lesser panda, though "red" is generally preferred. Many other languages use red panda, or variations of shining/gold or lesser/small in their names for this species. For instance, червена панда in Bulgarian, panda roux in French, and panda rojo in Spanish all mean red panda. Since at least as far back as 1855, one of its French names has been panda éclatant (shining panda). In Finnish, it is called kultapanda (gold panda). Variations of lesser panda occur in French petit panda (small panda), in Spanish panda menor (lesser panda), in Dutch kleine panda (small panda), in Russian «малая панда» (malaya panda, "small panda"), in Korean 애기판다 (aeki panda, "baby panda"), in Japanese ressā panda (レッサーパンダ transliteration of English "lesser panda"?).
Other names attributed to this species include fire cat, bright panda and common panda.
In Chinese, the red panda is called xiăoxióngmāo (小熊貓, lesser or small panda), or 红熊猫/紅熊貓 (hóngxióngmāo, red panda). In comparison, the giant panda is called dàxióngmāo (大熊猫/大熊貓, giant or big panda), or simply xióngmāo (熊猫/熊貓, panda, literally bear-cat).
In 2005, Babu, a male red panda at Birmingham Nature Centre in Birmingham, England, escaped and briefly became a media celebrity, before being recaptured. He was subsequently voted "Brummie of the Year", the first animal to receive this honor. Rusty, a male red panda at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., similarly attracted media attention when he briefly escaped in 2013.
An anthropomorphic red panda was featured as Master Shifu, the Kung Fu teacher, in the 2008 film Kung Fu Panda and its 2011 sequel Kung Fu Panda 2. Some of the comments about this film indicate the lack of awareness about the red panda in the United States when the first film was released. Although most of the reviewers got the species correct, some nevertheless mistook it for a tiny wolf, a rodent, and a lemur. In an interview, Dustin Hoffman also indicated he did not know much about the animal when he first agreed to voice the character. The red panda Futa inspired the character of Pabu, an animal companion in the animated U.S. TV series The Legend of Korra.
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