/Red Panda: A Life Munching on those Bamboos

Red Panda: A Life Munching on those Bamboos

For the longest time, I thought that the character Rikki-Tikki-Tavi from ‘The Jungle Book’ was a red panda (Ailurus fulgens). Even now – that I know better – it still feels like fraud that red pandas and the famous giant pandas do not have many similarities even though they both are pandas.

The giant pandas belong to Ursidae family and are genetically closer to bears. Red pandas, or lesser pandas, belong to family Ailuridae and are closer to raccoons and weasels. Among few similarities between them, the most pronounced one has to be their love for bamboos, which makes up the majority of their diet and it is also from which they get the name ‘panda’. The word panda is derived from the Nepali word ‘nigalya ponya’, which simply means ‘bamboo eater’.

Red panda, known as habre in Nepali, is an endangered species of mammal that is native to the Himalayas and can be found at an altitude of 2,200 to 4,800 meters in India, Nepal, China, Bhutan, and Myanmar. These nocturnal and crepuscular species spend most of their waking hours eating bamboo and can consume around 20,000 bamboo leaves a day. However, red pandas are not fully herbivorous and can occasionally feast on eggs, insects, birds, and small mammals.

These cat-sized solitary animals usually live on trees and have an average life span of 8 to 10 years in the wild and up to 14 years in captivity. They also use their excellent climbing skills to get away from their predators, which mostly include snow leopard and martens.

Red pandas have been declared as endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) because of the constant decline in their number over the years. There are only about 10,000 mature red pandas in the world today.

Their natural predators aside, poaching and destruction of habitat have been the main reasons behind the decline in their population. Even though red pandas have been declared as protected species – with hefty penalties for those involved in their trade – they are still hunted for their pelts and fur that are valuable in countries like China and Myanmar.

From the standpoint of the suitability, the upper hills of Nepal are among the best habitat for red pandas with approximately 38% of the total potential red panda habitat being in Nepal according to World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). Although the exact number of red pandas in Nepal is not known, it is estimated to be anywhere from 237 to 1061.

Red Panda Network conducted the first national red panda survey in Nepal in collaboration with Nepal Government in 2016 but the results are yet to be published. Red Panda Network has been actively involved in the protection of red pandas in Nepal and in promoting public awareness and educating the public about the importance of the species. One of the major factor threatening red pandas in Nepal is the destruction of their habitat as well as the nigalo (Himalayan bamboo) forest – their main source of food.

Illam, Langtang National Park, Manaslu Conservation Area, Annapurna Conservation Area, and Sagarmatha National Park are some areas of Nepal where Red pandas live.

-Subarna Adhikari

Fact Sheet

Specification Details
Scientific Name Ailurus fulgens
Number of subspecies 2
Status Endangered
Population in the world less than 10,000 individuals
Population in Nepal Between 237 to 1061
Length 2 feet
Habitat Temperate forests of Himalayas
Life span Up to 14 years in captivity
Courtesy: World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)

Red Panda Network: https://www.redpandanetwork.org/

WWF Nepal: http://www.wwfnepal.org/