The Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens) is endemic to the Himalayas in Bhutan, southern China, India, Laos, Nepal and Burma.
The Red Panda is the state animal in the Indian state of Sikkim. The Red Panda is also the mascot of the Darjeeling international festivals. Red Pandas look quite different to the Giant Pandas, they more resemble the appearance of a racoon or weasel type animal.
The Red Panda is also known as the ‘Lesser PandaWah Cat Bear’, or ‘Firefox’. The reference to being called a ‘Wah’ is because of its distinctive cry. Red Pandas are most closely related to the racoon and are now in a family (Ailuridea) of their own. Most can be found in the temperate forests of the Himalayas and some high mountain areas of China and Myanmar (Burma).
The sub-family of Red Pandas is divided into two sub-species:
Ailurus fulgens styani, which are native to northern Myanmar and south-central China
Ailurus fulgens fulgens, which is native to Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan and the Indian states of Assam and Sikkim. Ailurus fulgens: Latin: ‘fire-coloured cat’.
Red Panda Physical Characteristics
Red pandas have soft, dense fur that protects them from cool temperatures. The fur on the upper side of the animal is reddish-brown in colour while its underside and legs are black. The soles of the Red Pandas feet are covered with white fur. The Red Pandas compact face and the borders around the ears are primarily white.
The red panda has reddish brown mask-like markings over the eyes and dense, furry tail alternately marked with reddish and light brown rings. Their tail really does resemble that of a raccoons.
The Red Panda has semi-retractile claws and like the Giant panda, has a false thumb which is really an extension of the wrist bone.
Red Panda Habitat
Red pandas live in remote mountainous areas of the Himalayas in dense forest and bamboo thickets. The forests have a dense under story of bamboo and small trees. Red panda habitat temperatures usually fall between 10 – 25 degrees centigrade. Red pandas also inhibit elevation ranges from 6,000 – 12,000 feet.
Red Panda Diet
Just like the giant panda, the red panda is a bamboo eater and its diet is mainly bamboo. During summers, the red panda may feed on fruits, mushrooms, leaves, grasses, roots, fruits, lichens and acorns. Although considered herbivorous, the red panda will occasionally take birds eggs and it is speculated that they may eat mice and birds on occasions. Because the nutrient level of bamboo is so low, the Red panda has a slow metabolism and spends a good part of its day foraging.
The Red pandas digestive system is also like the digestive system of the giant panda. The Red panda is more suited to a carnivorous diet. However, it cannot digest cellulose, so it must consume a large volume of bamboo to survive and is therefore classed as mostly herbivorous.
Red Panda Social Behaviour
The Red panda is nocturnal and is mostly active in the early morning and late afternoon spending most of the day resting in trees conserving their energy as their bamboo diet has a low energy content. Red pandas are normally solitary creatures, however, they form pairs in the breeding season.
Red pandas appear to be territorial. Red pandas use glandular sacs in their anal regions which produce a scent which they use to mark territorial boundaries by rubbing their sacs on various objects in the wild. Additionally, they may also mark territory by using regular defecation sites. Red pandas have a mild, non-aggressive disposition.
Red Panda Reproduction
The gestation period of the female red panda is about 3 months. During this time, the female will make a nest out of grass and twigs in either a hollow tree or rock crevasse. Up to 3 newborn cubs are then delivered into the nest. Breeding season occurs from mid-January to early March and cubs are usually born between mid-May and mid-July. Red pandas reach sexual maturity around a year old.
Newborn red panda cubs weigh around 4 – 5 ounces. They are fully furred and pale yellow in colour. Just like Giant Panda cubs, they are blind at birth and rely totally on their mother for care and survival. When the cubs are 3 weeks old, they open their eyes. Red panda cubs start to take on the adult red panda colouration at about 90 days old. Red panda cubs are weaned at 5 months and stay with their mother until the next litter is about to be born, which is about a year after their birth.
Male red pandas do not share the raising of the cubs, it is completely left to the mother red panda to raise and care for the cubs herself. Red pandas can live up to 14 years in captivity. It is not sure, however, how long they actually live in the wild.
Red Panda Conservation Status
Red Pandas are listed as endangered by IUCN and Appendix II under CITES. The major threats to the red pandas are loss of habitat due to deforestation and forest fragmentation.
Red Pandas are often killed for their coats to make fur hats and clothes. Because of the growing human population in China, Red Panda habitats are being cleared to build houses. Approximately 10,000 pandas die per year, and approximately 7,000 of the 10,000 die from deforestation.