Red pandas are a very rare species found in the Eastern Himalayan region and southwestern part of China. They are spotted in this region in a number less than 10,000 mature adults. They belong to the phylum Chordata and the family Ailuridae. Species are referred to as A.fulgens.
They have reddish-brown fur and a fuzzy tail and a waddling gait is one of its striking features. The red panda is roughly around the size of a domestic cat but with a slightly longer body. Red pandas are also known as lesser pandas or red-cat-bear. They are raccoon-like mammals and were once linked to the giant panda. But despite the name, they have no relation to them.
The female gives birth to two to four cubs which are initially blind and deaf in mid-June. The young ones weigh between 110 to 130 g. The mother uses the sense of smell to distinguish her kids from the rest. She almost spends half of the day with young ones during the first week. After a while, she moves out of the den and comes in periodically to monitor the activities of the small ones. The mother nurses the kid till they are almost three months old and capable of venturing out on their own.
Till then she helps them move them from one nest to another and cleans up the place for them. Vision is restored at about 18 days of age. The litters stay with their mother till the next breeding season arrives. Males seldom participate in the course of action after mating, sometimes they are seen to help when present in groups or pairs.
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What is Red Panda?
Red pandas belong to the class Mammalia and order Carnivora according to F. Cuvier's classification, 1825. It possesses red, soft fur on the upper parts of the body and blackish furs on the lower halves. The face is marked with a presence of whitish hue.
The head is spherical with upright medium-sized ears. They have blackish noses and dark eyes. They're easily capable of camouflaging into their surroundings due to the presence of six alternating transverse ring-like patterns in the ochre shade around their bushy tail. The furry coat protects them in extremes of weather conditions and severe cold. Scent glands are present under the fur, similar to the ones around the anus region.
Measuring up to 50-64 cm in length, the male weighs around 3.7 to 6.2 kg, and a female approximately 3 to 6 kg. They possess specialized teeth which are capable of cutting bamboo shoots easily. The key features of their claws are semi-retractile, strong, sharp, and curved in appearance. This helps them in holding the fruits and nuts easily
Red Panda Habit and Habitat
The red panda feeds solely on bamboo shoots. They are also observed to sustain other fruits and insects. They reside on the hills among the rocks and bushes. They are quite agile in terms of climbing tall trees. They are concentrated around the region of Eastern Asia comprising the Himalayan region and parts of China. Red Pandas are broadly classified into two types -
The Himalayan Red Panda or the Ailurus fulgens fulgens which are found in northern parts of India, Bhutan, Nepal, and Tibet.
The Chinese Red Panda or Ailurus fulgens styani which are in turn found in Sichuan and Yunnan, the provinces of China.
These animals are arboreal and sedentary in nature. They like to spend their time in solitude but are also found in groups or pairs. They're active during the period of dusk to dawn. The red panda is endemic to the forests in the foothills of the Himalayas. They have a rather disjunct population which symbolizes their not so continuous pattern of occurrence.
Where are Red Pandas Found?
The population of red pandas is concentrated along the Western Nepal boundaries to China in the east. The easternmost extension is the Qinling Mountains of the Shaanxi Province in China. The zone covers southern Tibet, Sikkim, and Assam in India, Bhutan, northern mountains of Burma, and Southwestern China. Hengduan Mountains of Sichuan and Gongshan Hills in Yunnan also lie in this area. A disjunct population of red pandas inhibits the Meghalaya plateau of North-Eastern India.
Red Panda Information -
The two species of red panda were initially considered as similar kinds. After thorough research and phylogenetic studies, results concluded that they genetically diverged almost 0.22 million years ago.
These red panda animals inhabit places with few annual changes in the climatic conditions.
They are found in places having a moderate temperature between 10 to 25° C.
A survey in the 1970s revealed the presence of Red Pandas in the Dhorpatan Hunting Reserves of Nepal. This sighting was further backed up by another source in the year 2007 when four pandas were spotted at an elevation ranging from 3,220 to 3,610 m.
Recently in the year 2018 red pandas were spotted at altitudes 3,150 to 3,610 m in Nepal's Lamjung District.
The red pandas in the Chinese provinces like Guizhou, Gansu, Shaanxi, and Qinghai have become extinct over the years.
Predators of red pandas include snow leopards and humans. They use their sharp claws for protection when there is no way left but to face the predator. Otherwise, they flee and hide usually under the rocks or climb the trees.
They have an intriguing capacity to stand upright on their hind legs. They gained popularity in Japan with visitors getting attracted to them due to this feature.
The red pandas are territorial, nocturnal, and live in the hollow of trunks or burrows.
They are very heat sensitive and are often seen dangling one of their legs from their rest place at treetops trying to dissipate the heat.
Always after a nap, red pandas clean their fur in a cat-like manner and lick their paws. Proceeding to rub their back and belly against the trunk, they also tend to lock their torso, sides, and back.
They mark their territory by excretion of urine and then patrolling around it. This gives off a musky odour emitted by the anal glands.
Behaviour pattern also includes food gathering and collecting fruits with their sharp claws. They use their forepaws to place the food directly into the mouth.
Dietary plans include the consumption of smaller mammals, birds, eggs, flowers, and berries.
They are incapable of digesting cellulose hence they feed on a lot of bamboos, and also sometimes fish and insect
Due to their low-calorie diet, they don't show many activities other than eating and sleeping.
The bamboos are easy to digest over leaves and stems. This exhibits a low level of microbial digestion in the guts.
Interestingly red pandas are capable of tasting artificial sweeteners like Aspartame.
Pandas become reproductively mature at around eight months and grow into an adult in two or three years.
Both sexes mate with multiple partners.
It lasts from mid-January to early March.
In the case of pregnancy, it lasts up to 112 to 158 days before the young ones are conceived.
All You Need to know about Red Pandas
There is a serious threat to the lives of red pandas and naturally, they have been on the endangered list of species on the IUCN Red List since 2008. The population is decreasing every day as mentioned from a limited number of 10,000. Due to its shy nature and nocturnal patterns, the chart of the population is recorded on the basis of density per square area.
Conservation efforts are being made to save the remainder of the lot. China has 35 protected areas and India 20 to help the depleting animal. 5 protected areas in Bhutan and 26 in Myanmar support the current panda population. A community-managed forest is present in the Ilam district of eastern Nepal to house 15 pandas and is a tourist attraction center. This earns the organizers a handsome living. Arunachal Pradesh has a Pangchen Red Panda conservation alliance including five villages sharing conserved forest areas.
Internationally, Netherlands manages with the International Red Panda Management group, to protect these animals around the world. The group strives to restore the population of pandas in North America. Australia, Europe, and Japan have their separate Endangered Species Programme to help the little ones.
Zoological Parks are used to house these pandas and assist their inbreeding. By 2006, more than 800 red pandas got shelter in zoos. The 511 Himalayan variety, were taken by 173 institutions. Knoxville Zoo had 110 of them by 2019, the highest number of pandas recorded in zoos worldwide.
Interestingly there are a couple of fun facts about red pandas, for example, the animal has sturdy hind legs to allow them to stand upright when facing terror. Visitors in Japan are often attracted to watch them do this.
When descending a tree, they use a strange stunt where they rotate their ankle to make the climb easier. They are one of the few species to be able to do so.
Red pandas also have a false thumb for better grip to help them climb on the trees. This also helps them to hold and eat bamboo easily.