Saturday was International Red Panda Day, a day designed to raise awareness about the plight of the red panda as well as a chance to raise funds to support the operation of a new community conservation centre in Nepal. For those of you unfamiliar with this curious and charismatic creature, fear not, as the ARKive team have rustled up their favourite red panda facts to give you the lowdown.
- The red panda is the original panda, having been discovered 48 years before the giant panda.
- Red pandas are found in Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar and Nepal.
- There are two subspecies of red panda; Ailurus fulgens styani and the smaller, lighter Ailurus fulgens fulgens.
- Red pandas produce a number of vocalisations, the strangest of which is a ‘quack-snort’.
Is it a cat, is it a bear, is it a fox..?
Actually, the red panda is thought to be most closely related to species in the racoon family. The classification of the red panda has caused continued controversy since it was first described in 1825. While its scientific name means ‘fire-coloured cat’, and it shares similarities with both bears and racoons, today it is placed with the racoons but in its own separate subfamily, the Ailurinae. Interestingly, the Chinese name for the red panda is “hunho”, which translates into English as “firefox”, hence the famous logo of Mozilla’s web browser.
Like the giant panda, red pandas posses a modified wrist bone that acts as a sixth digit or thumb which is used for grabbing bamboo. While technically classified as a carnivore, red pandas actually feed almost exclusively on bamboo, although roots, fruit, eggs and small animals are sometimes eaten too. They have semi-retractable claws, which allow them to be efficient climbers and when not foraging, pandas are usually found in the trees.
Red pandas are ready to breed at around 18 months old. After a relatively long gestation period for their body size (roughly 135 days) red pandas usually give birth to two young in a hollow tree. The young, known as cubs, are born blind and helpless, opening their eyes after 18 days.
A species under threat
Sadly, red pandas are a species under threat, currently classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. The most serious threat they face is habitat loss, as throughout their range forests have been cleared for timber extraction, agriculture and development. Their lustrous coats also make them a target for hunters, and hats made from their pelts were traditionally given to newlyweds in Yunnan as they were thought to symbolise a happy marriage. In China the species is thought to have undergone a decline of around 40 percent over the last 50 years.
How can you help?
If you would like to get involved International Red Panda Day you can download an activity pack here. Kids can get involved in a whole host of fun red panda themed activities as well as becoming a “Red Panda Ranger”, a special title given to children that help spread the word about red pandas.
Make sure you check out the red panda species profile on ARKive for lots more information, images and videos.
You can also find out more about red pandas and their conservation by visiting the Red Panda Network.
Claire Lewis, ARKive Researcher