Thanks to their russet-red fur, cute faces, and furry ears, red pandas are favourites among zoo and safari park guests worldwide. With a thick fur coat and a large bushy tail, they are made for colder climates. So, where do these sweet creatures live?
Red pandas live in Nepal, India, China, Myanmar (Burma), and Bhutan. Most of the time, they live in the trees, spending only a small part of their lives on the ground where they mate.
If you have ever seen a red panda, you will know how cute they are. Let’s look into more detail about these amazing animals.
Red Panda Facts
Red pandas are difficult to categorize. Unlike giant pandas, red pandas are not bears. The name ‘panda’ comes from the Nepali word ‘ponya,’ which translates as ‘bamboo eater.’ Since both giant and red pandas eat bamboo, this name is accurate.
Red pandas are similar in size to most domestic cats. They have the body proportions of a bear and the facial features of a fox.
Their fur is russet red, with black fur along the legs and stomach and white hair above the eyes, cheeks, and nose. Their ears are also white, with dark brown or black fur around the entrance to the ear. Like cats, red pandas have long whiskers on either side of their nose and shorter whiskers under the chin and above the eyes.
An adult red panada measures approximately 2 feet in length from nose to tail. There is not much size difference between males and females.
Red Panda Habitat
Red pandas live in the cold environments of the Eastern Himalayas. Small populations can be found in Nepal, India, China, Myanmar (Burma), and Bhutan. Approximately 38% of wild red pandas can be found in Nepal.
The climate here is cold, especially in winter when there is lots of snow and ice. They use their big, bushy tails like a blanket, wrapping their tails around themselves to conserve heat.
Red pandas are arboreal animals, meaning they spend most of their time in trees. They are very agile climbers thanks to their strong legs and clawed paws. During climbing, they use their tail for balance.
They do most of their travel crossing from tree to tree and will also nest in tree cavities lined with grasses and leaves. Only a short amount of time is spent on the ground.
The bulk of a red panda’s diet is bamboo and leaves. They have a fifth digit, like a human thumb, and are used to hold bamboo stems or tree branches. They also forage fruit, insects, and small lizards and steal eggs from bird nests.
Food is plentiful during spring and summer, but once autumn comes, food sources begin declining. Winter can be harsh in countries around the Himalayas, and red pandas are often found at altitudes above 5000 feet.
They will eat a more significant proportion of lizards and bamboo during winter as fewer plants will grow, and most birds will have migrated to warmer climates.
Behaviour & Breeding
These elusive animals are crepuscular, active in the evening and through the night, although they are occasionally spotted during the day. They use their highly sensitive whiskers at night to navigate the dense vegetation.
Red pandas spend around 15 hours per day sleeping. They are active for approximately 45% of a 24 hour period, where they will forage for food and water.
Red pandas are solitary and territorial, only forming pairs during the breeding season. Breeding occurs between January and March in the northern hemisphere, whereas breeding season is between June and August in the southern hemisphere.
Considering they spend so much time in the trees, red pandas mate on the forest floor. Both males and females will mark trees during mating, and males will establish small territories.
A mother will give birth to up to 4 cubs after a gestation of 115 to 145 days. The cubs will stay in the nest for the first three months before they venture out with their mother. They will not leave her until the next breeding season.
In zoos and safari parks, most red pandas are kept in pairs with several nest boxes and separate areas within the enclosure, so they have private spaces when they need them. Although they are solitary in the wild, captive breeding pairs establish solid bonds and display stress-related behaviours if separated from their partner.
Since red pandas live in dense forests, they need effective forms of communication. Thanks to field studies and radio tracking, seven distinct calls have been recorded, including whistles, duck-like quacks, grunts, and squeals.
As of 2015, red pandas are listed as ‘Endangered’ on the IUCN red list, with fewer than 10,000 individuals, and their numbers continue to decrease.
Threats to the red panda include:
- Residential and commercial development
- Agriculture – livestock, crops, wood plantations
- Mining and quarries
- Construction of roads and railways
- Traps meant for pigs and deer
- Logging/wood harvesting
- Human disturbance
- Invasive species – resource competition, introducing new diseases
- Climate change
- Natural events, i.e., earthquakes, landslips, and avalanches
Red pandas are also captured for medicinal purposes, food, and clothing in local and national areas. Various charities are now working with local farmers to educate them and provide alternatives to help protect red pandas in the future.
Several conservation efforts are ongoing, including research and monitoring, land and water protection over half of the populated areas, species management, and education for locals.
IUCN has determined that further action is needed, such as further area protection, land management, invasive species control, reintroduction programs, and increased education and awareness.