Red Pandas: An Endangered Species of Southeast Asia
The Red Panda: Quick Facts
Name: Red Panda
Binomial Name: Ailurus fulgens
Genus: Ailurus (F. Cuvier, 1825)
Species: A. fulgens
Subspecies: A. f. fulgens (F. Cuvier, 1825); A. f. styani (Thomas, 1902)
Conservation Status (IUCN): Endangered Species
Also Known As: “Lesser Panda,” “Red Bear-Cat,” and the “Red Cat-Bear”
Behavioral Traits and Characteristics of the Red Panda
The Red Panda is a mammal located primarily in Southwestern China. It is currently listed on the IUCN “Red List” as an endangered species, with fewer than 10,000 pandas in existence (due to urbanization, habitat loss, and poaching). With its reddish-brown coat and long tail, the Red Panda isn’t much larger than a domestic cat. It is primarily arboreal, and prefers a solitary (and sedentary) lifestyle away from other creatures.
The Red Panda is a member of the Ailuridae family, which includes bears and raccoons. It is also believed to share a commonality with weasels and skunks. Currently there are two subspecies that are recognized of the Red Panda. Despite its name, researchers do not feel that the Red Panda is closely related to the Giant Panda. In total, the Red Panda is approximately twenty to twenty-five inches in length, with a tail close to eleven or more inches (depending on the age of the animal). Their coats are reddish-brown (upper body), with blackish fur along its underbelly. The Red Panda is well-known for their upright ears and white badges along their face (similar to raccoons). They also have bushy tails with six ochre rings, similar to the raccoon as well.
Red Pandas are extremely territorial, and are believed to be both nocturnal and crepuscular (active during twilight or nighttime hours).
Distribution Map of the Red Panda
Habitat and Distribution of the Red Panda
The Red Panda is located primarily in the temperate forests of the Himalayas, but can also be located in the foothills of Western Nepal, as well as the Qinling Mountains of China. Other sightings have been reported throughout Southwest China, as well as Tibet, Sikkim, Burma, and Assam (India). On average, the Red Panda tends to live in areas that are between 7,200 and 15,700 feet altitude, and prefer climates that maintain moderate temperatures between fifty and seventy degrees Fahrenheit. Red Pandas primarily reside in deciduous and conifer forests within these regions.
Prey and Natural Predators of the Red Panda
Because of their ability to climb exceptionally well, the Red Panda forages for food primarily in trees. Although they mostly eat bamboo, they are also known to consume small mammals, eggs, small birds, various flowers, and berries. The panda also eats a variety of mushrooms, roots, lichens, acorns, and grasses to complement their primary bamboo diet.
Due to its small size, the Red Panda is susceptible to multiple predators, including the Snow Leopard and Mustelids. When faced with danger, the panda uses its sharp claws to defend itself, while simultaneously standing on its hind legs to appear much bigger to its attacker. Other threats include poachers, which appear to be widespread in both India and China. Because of their prized fur, the Red Panda is a particular favorite of hunters, leading to a sharp decrease in their overall population in the last few decades.
Reproduction and Lifespan
Red Pandas are fully mature by the age of two, and can reproduce at eighteen months. Mating season lasts from mid-January to March, while gestation periods ranger from a period of 112 to 158 days, total. Just before giving birth to their young, the females begin to collect various materials such as grass, leaves, and brushwood to construct a nest (typically located inside a tree or cluster of rocks). By mid-June the females give birth to 1 – 2 cubs (sometimes as many as four). Totally blind and deaf, the cubs are wholly dependent upon their mother who provides them with regular milk and grooming the first few weeks of life. At around eighteen days old, the cubs are able to open their eyes, and by three months have a full set of fur and coloring. By eight months, the babies are fully weaned, but remain with their mother until the following year when a new litter is born. Average lifespan of the Red Panda is between 8 to 10 years; however, some pandas have been known to live as long as fifteen years depending on their environment and health.
"We all have a responsibility to protect endangered species, both for their sake and for the sake of our own future generations."— Loretta Lynch
In 2008, the Red Panda was listed as “Endangered” by the IUCN due to its rapidly decreasing population. Of its nearly 142,000 square kilometers (55,000 square miles) of natural habitat, current estimates suggest that the Red Panda is only observable in half of this area now, due to illegal poaching, urbanization, and deforestation efforts. It is unknown what the Red Panda’s population numbers currently are, due to the difficultly in observing these animals in their natural habitat. As a result, scientists are unsure if conservation efforts are aiding the Red Panda. Throughout China, India, Nepal, Bhutan, and Burma, the national governments have set up numerous “protected areas,” and have made hunting the animal illegal (punishable by hefty fines and prison time).
Before reading this article, were you aware of the Red Panda?
In closing, the Red Panda is one of the most fascinating animals in the world, due to its natural beauty, and peculiar characteristics. Although researchers have developed numerous theories and hypotheses concerning the Red Panda’s behavioral patterns and norms, there is still much to be learned about this extraordinary creature. Current understandings of the panda have been weakened by the lack of empirical observation in the wild (due to the remoteness of the panda’s habitat, as well as its nocturnal nature). With additional studies underway, however, it will be interesting to see what new forms of information can be learned about the Red Panda in the years and decades that lie ahead.
Images / Photographs:
Wikipedia contributors, "Red panda," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Red_panda&oldid=903463107 (accessed July 6, 2019).
© 2019 Larry Slawson