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Red panda

The red panda (Ailurus fulgens, or shining-cat), is a small arboreal mammal native to the eastern Himalayas and southwestern China.[1] It is the only extant species of the genus Ailurus. Slightly larger than a domestic cat, it has reddish-brown fur, a long, shaggy tail, and a waddling gait due to its shorter front legs. It feeds mainly on bamboo, but is omnivorous and may also eat eggs, birds, insects, and small mammals. It is a solitary animal, mainly active from dusk to dawn, and is largely sedentary during the day.

The red panda has been classified as Vulnerable by IUCN because its population is estimated at fewer than 10,000 mature individuals. Although red pandas are protected by national laws in their range countries, their numbers in the wild continue to decline mainly due to habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching, and inbreeding depression.[1]

The red panda has been previously classified in the families Procyonidae (raccoons) and Ursidae (bears), but recent research has placed it in its own family Ailuridae, in superfamily Musteloidea along with Mustelidae and Procyonidae.[2] Two subspecies are recognized.


Physical characteristics

Red panda descending head first The head and body length of red pandas averages , and their tails about . Males weigh and females .[3] They have long, soft reddish-brown fur on the upper parts, blackish fur on the lower parts, and a light face with tear markings and robust cranial-dental features. The light face has white badges similar to those of a raccoon, but each individual can have distinctive markings. Their roundish head has medium-sized upright ears, a black nose, and very dark eyes: almost pitch black. Their long bushy tail with six alternating yellowish red transverse ochre rings provides balance and excellent camouflage against its habitat of moss- and lichen-covered trees. The legs are black and short with thick fur on the soles of the paws. This fur serves as thermal insulation on snow-covered or ice surfaces and conceals scent glands which are also present on the anus.[4]

The red panda is specialized as a bamboo feeder with strong, curved and sharp semi-retractile claws [3] standing inward for grasping of narrow tree branches, leaves and fruit. Like the giant panda, it has a false thumb that is an extension of the wrist bone. When descending a tree headfirst, the red panda rotates its ankle to control its descent, one of the few climbing species to do so.[5]

Distribution and habitat

alt=A Red panda lies sleeping on a branch high in a tree, with tail stretched out behind and legs dangling on each side of the branch The red panda is endemic to the temperate forests of the Himalayas, and ranges from the foothills of western Nepal to China in the east.[6] Its easternmost limit is the Qinling Mountains of the Shaanxi Province in China. Its range includes southern Tibet, Sikkim and Assam in India, Bhutan, the northern mountains of Myanmar, and in southwestern China, in the Hengduan Mountains of Sichuan and the Gongshan Mountains in Yunnan. It may also live in southwest Tibet and northern Arunachal Pradesh, but this has not been documented. Locations with the highest density of red pandas include an area in the Himalayas that has been proposed as having been a refuge for a variety of endemic species in the Pleistocene. The distribution range of the red panda should be considered disjunct, rather than continuous.[3] A disjunct population inhabits the Meghalaya Plateau of northeastern India.[7]

During a survey in the 1970s, signs of red pandas were found in Nepal's Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve.[8] Their presence was confirmed in spring 2007 when four red pandas were sighted at elevations ranging from .[9] The species' westernmost limit is in Rara National Park located farther west of the Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve.[10] Their presence was confirmed in 2008.[11]

The red panda lives between altitude, inhabiting areas of moderate temperature between with little annual change. It prefers mountainous mixed deciduous and conifer forests, especially with old trees and dense understories of bamboo.[3][6]

The effective population size of the Sichuan population is larger and more stable than that of the Yunnan population, implying a southward expansion from Sichuan to Yunnan.[12]

In August 2010, archaeologists uncovered red panda fossil remains in Washington County in the US state of Tennessee. Although none are known to exist in the wild in North America today, it is believed the red panda thrived in the mountains of eastern Tennessee approximately 4.5 million years ago.[13]

The red panda has become extirpated from the Chinese provinces of Guizhou, Gansu, Shaanxi and Qinghai.[14]

Distribution of subspecies

Distribution of the red panda is disjointed, and there are two extant subspecies:

  • Western red panda Ailurus fulgens fulgens (Cuvier, 1825) lives in the western part of its range: in Nepal, Assam, Sikkim and Bhutan;
  • Styan's red panda Ailurus fulgens styani lives in the east-northeastern part of its range: in southern China and northern Myanmar.[15]

Ailurus fulgens styani has been described by Thomas in 1902 based on one skull from a specimen collected in Szechwan.[16] Pocock distinguished styani from fulgens by its longer winter coat and more abundant blackness in the pelage, bigger skull, more strongly curved forehead, and more robust teeth. His description is based on skulls and skins collected in Szechwan, Myitkyina close to the border of Yunnan, and Upper Burma.[4]

The Styan's red panda is supposedly larger and darker in color than its Western cousin, but there is considerable variation in both subspecies, and some individuals may be brown or yellowish brown rather than red.[6]

The Brahmaputra river is often considered the natural division between the two subspecies, where it makes a curve around the eastern end of the Himalayas. Although some authors suggest that A. f. fulgens extends farther eastward, into China.

Biology and behavior


Sounds of red panda twittering Red pandas are territorial. Adults are solitary except during mating season. They are generally quiet except for some twittering, tweeting, and whistling communication sounds. They have been reported to be both nocturnal and crepuscular, sleeping on tree branches or in tree hollows during the day and increasing their activity in the late afternoon and early evening hours. They sleep stretched out on a branch with legs dangling when it is hot, and curled up with its tail over the face when it is cold.[3] They are very heat sensitive, with an optimal well-being temperature between , and cannot tolerate temperatures over .

Red panda standing Shortly after waking, red pandas clean their fur like a cat, licking their front paws and then rubbing their back, stomach and sides. They also rub their back and belly along the sides of trees or rocks. Then they patrol their territory, marking it with urine and a weak musk-smelling secretion from their anal gland. They search for food running along the ground or through the trees. Red pandas may alternately either use their forepaw to bring food to their mouth or place food directly into the mouth. [3]

Predators of the red panda include the snow leopard, martens (Mustelidae), and humans. If they feel threatened or sense danger, they may try to escape by climbing a rock column or tree. If they can no longer flee, they stand on their hind legs to make themselves appear larger and use the sharp claws on their front paws to defend themselves.


Red panda gnawing Red pandas are excellent climbers, and forage largely in trees. They eat mostly bamboo, and may eat small mammals, birds, eggs, blossoms, and berries. In captivity, they were observed to eat birds, blossoms, acer and morus leaves, bark and the fruits of acer, beech and morus.[3]

Like the Giant Panda, they cannot digest cellulose, so they must consume a large volume of bamboo to survive. Their diet consists of about two-thirds bamboo, but they also eat mushrooms, roots, acorns, lichen, and grasses. Occasionally, they supplement their diet with fish and insects. They do little more than eat and sleep due to their low-calorie diet.

Bamboo shoots are more easily digested than leaves, exhibiting the highest digestibility in summer and autumn, intermediate digestibility in the spring, and lowest digestibility in the winter. These variations correlate with the nutrient contents in the bamboo. Red pandas process bamboo poorly, especially the cellulose and cell wall components. This implies that microbial digestion plays only a minor role in their digestive strategy. In order to survive on this poor-quality diet, they have to eat the high-quality sections of the bamboo plant such as the tender leaves and shoots in large quantities, over of fresh leaves and of fresh shoots daily. This food passes through the digestive tract fairly rapidly (~2 4 hours) so as to maximize nutrient intake.[17] Red pandas can taste artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, the only known non-primate to be able to do so.[18]


Red panda cubs playing Red pandas are able to reproduce at around 18 months of age, and are fully mature at 2 3 years. Adults rarely interact in the wild except to mate. Both sexes may mate with more than one partner during the mating season from mid-January to early March.[19] A few days before birth, females begin to collect material, such as brushwood, grass, and leaves, to build a nest, which is normally located in a hollow tree or a rock crevice. After a gestation period of 112 to 158 days, the female gives birth in mid-June to late July to about one to four blind and deaf cubs weighing each.[3]

After birth, the mother cleans the cubs and can then recognize each by their smell. At first, she spends 60% to 90% of her time with the cubs. After the first week, the mother starts spending more time outside the nest, returning every few hours to nurse and groom the cubs. She moves the young frequently among several nests, all of which she keeps clean. The cubs start to open their eyes at about 18 days of age. By about 90 days, they have achieved full adult fur and coloring, and begin to venture out of the nest. They also start eating solid foods at this point, weaning at around 6 8 months of age. The cubs stay with their mother until the next litter is born in the following summer. Males rarely help raise the young, and only if they live in pairs or in small groups.[3]

The average lifespan is 8 10 years, but individuals have been known to reach 15 years.


A red panda in the Parco Natura Viva, Bussolengo near Verona, Italy The primary threats to red pandas are direct harvest from the wild, live or dead, competition with domestic livestock resulting in habitat degradation, and deforestation resulting in habitat loss or fragmentation. The relative importance of these factors is different in each region, and is not well understood.[6] For instance, in India the biggest threat seems to be habitat loss followed by poaching, while in China the biggest threat seems to be hunting and poaching.[1] A 40% decrease in red panda populations has been reported in China over the last 50 years, and populations in western Himalayan areas are considered to be lower.[14]

Deforestation can inhibit the spread of red pandas and exacerbate the natural population subdivision by topography and ecology, leading to severe fragmentation of the remaining wild population. Fewer than 40 animals in 4 separate groups share resources with humans in Nepal's Langtang National Park, where only 6% of is preferred red panda habitat. Although direct competition for food with domestic livestock is not significant, livestock can depress bamboo growth by trampling.[20]

Small groups of animals with little opportunity for exchange between them face the risk of inbreeding, decreased genetic diversity, and even extinction. In addition, clearcutting for firewood or agriculture, including hillside terracing, removes old trees that provide maternal dens and decreases the ability of some species of bamboo to regenerate.[6]

In Southwest China, red pandas are hunted for their fur, especially for the highly-valued bushy tails from which hats are produced. In these areas, the fur is often used for local cultural ceremonies, and in weddings the bridegroom traditionally carries the hide. The "good-luck charm" red panda-tail hats are also used by local newlyweds.[14]

In the past, red pandas were captured and sold to zoos. Glatston reports that "in International Zoo News, Munro (1969) reported he personally had handled 350 red pandas in seventeen years."[21]

Thanks to CITES this number has decreased substantially in recent years, but poaching continues, and red pandas are often sold to private collectors at exorbitant prices. In some parts of Nepal and India, red pandas are kept as pets.[22]

The red panda has a naturally low birth rate (usually single or twin births per year), and a high death rate in the wild.


The red panda has been confused with other animals Red panda in Gangtok Zoo, Sikkim The red panda is listed in CITES Appendix I.[23] The species has been classified as vulnerable in the IUCN Red List since 2008 because the global population is estimated at about 10,000 individuals, with a decreasing population trend; only about half of the total area of potential habitat of is actually being used by the species. Due to their shy and secretive nature, and their largely nocturnal habits, observation of red pandas is difficult. Therefore, population figures in the wild are determined by population density estimates and not direct counts.[1]

Worldwide population estimates range from fewer than 2,500 individuals[19] to between 16,000 and 20,000 individuals.[7] In 1999, the total population in China was estimated at between 3,000 and 7,000 individuals.[14] In 2001, the wild population in India was estimated at between 5,000 and 6,000 individuals.[7] Estimates for Nepal indicate only a few hundred individuals.[24] There are no records from Bhutan or Myanmar.

Reliable population numbers are hard to find, partly because other animals have been mistaken for the red panda. For instance, one report from Myanmar stated that red pandas were still fairly common in some areas, and was accompanied by a photograph of a red panda as proof. The photograph in question depicted a species of civet.[25]

The red panda is protected in all range countries, and hunting is illegal.[1] Beyond this, conservation efforts are highly variable between countries:

In situ initiatives

A community-managed forest in Ilam District of eastern Nepal is home to 15 red pandas who generate household income through tourism activities including home stay. Villagers in the high altitude areas of Arunachal Pradesh have formed the Pangchen Red Panda Conservation Alliance comprising five villages with a community conserved forest area of at an altitude of to over .[27]

In captivity

National Zoo]] in Washington, DC. The red panda is quite adaptable to living in captivity, and is common in zoos worldwide. By 1992, there had been more than 300 births in captivity, and there were more than 300 individuals living in 85 institutions worldwide.[28] By 2001, there were 182 individuals in North American zoos alone.[29] As of 2006, the international studbook listed more than 800 individuals in zoos and parks around the world. Out of these, 511 individuals of subspecies fulgens were kept in 173 institutions[30] and 306 individuals of subspecies styani were kept in 81 institutions.[31]

The International Studbook is currently managed at the Rotterdam Zoo in the Netherlands. In cooperation with the International Red Panda Management Group, they coordinate the Species Survival Plan in North America, the European Endangered Species Programme in Europe and other captive breeding programs in Australia, India, Japan and China.[31][32] In 2009, Sarah Glass, Curator of red pandas and Special Exhibits at the Knoxville Zoo in Knoxville, Tennessee, was appointed as coordinator for the North American Red Panda Species Survival Plan. The Knoxville Zoo has the largest number of captive red panda births in the Western Hemisphere (101 as of August 2011). Only the Rotterdam Zoo in the Netherlands has had more captive births worldwide.[30][31]

Successes in red panda captive breeding includes:

Because the red panda is considered a very attractive animal, and is not much larger than a house cat, it would seem to be ideal for a pet. Despite this, and despite reports that Indira Gandhi kept red pandas as pets when she was a child, there does not seem to have ever been widespread adoption of these animals as pets.[45] Due to its listing in CITES Appendix I, obtaining a red panda as a pet would now be quite difficult. Interestingly, due to the red panda's high levels of captive breeding and recent successful efforts of domestication by selective breeding of the red fox, domestication could be possible. However, because of their low tolerances for high temperature areas, the red panda if ever domesticated may not be suitable as pets in some areas or special care would be needed to keep them happy. Though there is growing interest in the general public of the availability of this animal as a pet, there does not appear to be any person or group attempting to domestic the red panda through any process including selective breeding. Domestication may also be a viable method of successful conservation though it should not be the only form.[46]


The taxonomic classification of the red panda has been controversial since it was discovered. French zoologist Fr d ric Cuvier initially described the red panda in 1825, and classified it as a close relative of the Raccoon (Procyonidae), even though he gave it the genus name Ailurus "cat" based on superficial similarities with domestic cats. The specific epithet is the Latin adjective fulgens "shining".[47] At various times it has been placed in Procyonidae, Ursidae, with Ailuropoda in Ailuridae, and in its own family, Ailuridae. This uncertainty comes from difficulty determining whether certain characteristics of Ailurus are phylogenetically conservative or are derived and convergent with species of similar ecological habits.[3]

A Red panda gnawing on an exfoliated bamboo bush.Evidence based on the fossil record, serology, karyology, behavior, anatomy, and reproduction reflect closer affinities with Procyonidae than Ursidae. However, ecological and foraging specializations and distinct geographical distribution in relation to modern Procyonids support classification in the separate family Ailuridae.[48][3][49]

Recent molecular-systematic DNA research also places the red panda into its own family Ailuridae, which is in turn part of the broad superfamily Musteloidea that also includes skunk, raccoon, and weasel families.[2][49][50]

The name Ailurus fulgens refulgens is sometimes incorrectly used for A. f. styani. This stems from a lapsus made by Henri Milne-Edwards in his 1874 paper "Recherches pour servir l'histoire naturelle des mammif res comprenant des consid rations sur la classification de ces animaux",[51] making A. f. refulgens a nomen nudum.[4][15] The most recent edition of "Mammal Species of the World" still shows the subspecies as A. f. refulgens.[48] This has been corrected in more recent works including "A guide to the mammals of China"[52] and "Handbook of the Mammals of the World, Volume 1: Carnivores."[53]

Evolutionary history

The red panda is considered a living fossil and only distantly related to the Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca). Their common ancestor can be traced back to the Early Tertiary Period tens of millions of years ago, with a wide distribution across Eurasia. Fossils of the red panda Parailurus anglicus have been unearthed from China in the east to Britain in the west.[54]

In 1977, a single tooth of the extinct panda Parailurus was discovered in the Pliocene Ringold Formation of Washington State. This first North American record is almost identical to European specimens and indicates the immigration of this species from Asia.[55] In 2004, a tooth from a red panda species never before recorded in North America was discovered at the Gray Fossil Site in Tennessee. The tooth dates from 4.5 7 million years ago.[56] This species described as Pristinailurus bristoli indicates that a second, more primitive ailurine lineage inhabited North America during the Miocene. Cladistic analysis suggests that Parailurus and Ailurus are sister-taxa.[54][57]

The discovery in Spain of the postcranial remains of Simocyon batalleri, a Miocene relative to the red panda, supports a sister-group relationship between red pandas and giant pandas. The discovery suggests that the red panda's "false thumb" was an adaptation to arboreal locomotion  independent of the giant panda's adaptation to manipulate bamboo  one of the most dramatic cases of convergent evolution among vertebrates.[58]

Taxonomic history

Red panda at Munich Zoo, Germany The first known written record of the red panda occurs in a 13th-century Chinese scroll depicting a hunting scene between hunters and the red panda.[28][45]

Major General Thomas Hardwicke s 1821 presentation of an article titled "Description of a new Genus of the Class Mammalia, from the Himalaya Chain of Hills Between Nepaul and the Snowy Mountains" at the Linnean Society in London is usually regarded as the moment the red panda became a bona fide species in Western science. Hardwicke proposed the name "Wha" and explained: "It is frequently discovered by its loud cry or call, resembling the word Wha , often repeating the same : hence is derived one of the local names by which it is known. It is also called Chitwa." Hardwicke's paper was not published until 1827, by which time Fr d ric Cuvier had published his description and a figure. Hardwicke's originally proposed taxonomic name was removed from the 1827 publication of his paper with his permission, and naming credit is now given to Cuvier.[59]

Fr d ric Cuvier had received the specimen he described from his brother's stepson Alfred Duvaucel who had sent it "from the mountains north of India".[60] He was the first who used both the binomial Ailurus fulgens and the vernacular name Panda in reference to the species in his description published in 1825 in Histoire Naturelle des Mammif res.[61][62] Ailurus is adopted from the ancient Greek word meaning cat.[63] Fulgens is Latin for shining, bright.[64] Panda is the French name for the Roman goddess of peace and travelers, who was called upon before starting a difficult journey.[65] Whether this is the origin of the French vernacular name Panda remains uncertain. In later publications, the name is claimed to be adopted from a Himalayan language.

Local names

Red Panda in Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoo, Darjeeling, India

The red panda's local names differ from place to place. The Lepcha people call it sak nam. In Nepal, the species is called bhalu biralo (bear-cat) and habre. The Sherpa people of Nepal and Sikkim call it ye niglva ponva and wah donka.[66] The word w is Sunuwari meaning bear; in Tamang language, a small, red bear is called t w m.[67] In the Kanchenjunga region of eastern Nepal, the Limbus know red pandas as Kaala, which literally means dark because of their underside pelage; villagers of Tibetan origin call them Hoptongar.[68]

Additionally, Pocock lists the vernacular names Ye and Nig lya ponya (Nepal); Thokya and Thongwa (Limbu); Oakdonga or Wakdonka and Woker (Bhotia); Saknam Sunam (Lepcha).[4] Nig lya may originate from the Nepali word ni lo or n g lo meaning a particular kind of small bamboo, namely Arundinaria intermedia, but also refers to a kind of small leopard, or cat-bear.[69] The word p nya may originate from the Nepali word paj meaning claw, or pa j meaning paw of an animal.[70] Nig lya p nya may translate to 'bamboo claw' or 'bamboo paw'.

Nig lya p nya, nyala ponga, and poonya are said to mean eater of bamboo. It could be that the name panda originates from panj .[71]

In English, the red panda is also called lesser panda, though due to the pejorative implications of this name, "red" is generally preferred.[1] Many other languages use red panda, or variations of shining/gold or lesser/small in their names for this species. For instance, in Bulgarian, panda roux in French, and panda rojo in Spanish all mean red panda. Since at least as far back as 1855, one of its French names has been panda clatant (shining panda).[72] In Finnish, it is called kultapanda ("gold panda"). Variations of lesser panda occur in French petit panda ("small panda"), in Spanish panda menor ("lesser panda"), in Dutch kleine panda ("small panda"), in Russian (malaya panda, "small panda"), in Korean (aeki panda, "baby panda"), in Japanese .

Other names attributed to this species include fire cat, bright panda and common panda.[28]

In Chinese language, the red panda is called (xi o xi ng m o , lesser panda),[73] and / (h ng xi ng m o, red panda).[74]

The English name firefox is often claimed by English sources to be a literal translation of the Chinese name for the red panda.[75][76][77][78][79] But the Chinese word hu h refers to the Firefox web browser.[80][81][82]

The Giant Panda is called / (xi ng m o, or "bear cat").[83]

Cultural depictions

The red panda was recognized as the state animal of Sikkim, India in the early 1990s,[84] and was the mascot of the Darjeeling Tea Festival.[45]

In southwest China red pandas are hunted for their fur, especially for the highly-valued bushy tails from which hats are produced. In these areas the fur is often used for local cultural ceremonies. In weddings the bridegroom traditionally carries the hide. The "good-luck charm" red panda-tail hats are also used by local newlyweds.[14] This practice may be quite old, as the red panda seems to be depicted in a 13th century Chinese pen and ink scroll showing a hunting scene. There is little or no mention of the red panda in the culture and folklore of Nepal.[45]

The Firefox browser is said to have been named after a Chinese name for red panda: , or "fire fox." However, Mozilla's documents don't mention the red panda among their motivations: In addition, an article on its branding by the artist says that although a firefox is a red panda, the logo design is a red fox.[85] Despite these statements, Mozilla says that Firefox is another name for Red Panda (citing a mirror of the Wikipedia red panda article as its source[86]), and in 2010 the Firefox Web site started linking to a "live feed of firefox cubs"[87] (red pandas[88]).

An anthropomorphic red panda was featured as Master Shifu, the Kung Fu teacher, in the 2008 film Kung Fu Panda and its 2011 sequel Kung Fu Panda 2. Some of the comments about this film indicate the lack of awareness about the red panda in the United States when the first film was released. Although most of the reviewers got the species correct, some nevertheless mistook it for a tiny wolf,[89] a rodent,[90] and a lemur.[91] In an interview, Dustin Hoffman also indicated that he did not know much about the animal when he first agreed to voice the character.[92][93]

In 2005, Babu, a male red panda at Birmingham Nature Centre in Birmingham, England, escaped[94] and briefly became a media celebrity,[94][95] before being recaptured. He was subsequently voted "Brummie of the Year", the first animal to receive this honor.[94][95]



Further reading

  • Mace, G.M. and Balmford, A. (2000). Patterns and processes in contemporary mammalian extinction. In Priorities for the Conservation of Mammalian Diversity. Has the Panda had its day?, A. Entwhistle and N. Dunstone (eds). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. pp. 27 52.

External links

ar: av: bg: bo: br:Panda ruz ca:Panda vermell cs:Panda erven cy:Panda Coch da:R d panda de:Kleiner Panda nv:Tsinl tah shash ich g dsb:Ma ki panda et:Punane panda es:Ailurus fulgens eo:Malgranda pando eu:Panda gorri fa: fr:Petit panda ga:Panda rua gag:K k panda ko: hsb:Ma ki panda hr:Crveni panda id:Panda Merah is:Rau panda it:Ailurus fulgens he: ka: kk: mrj: lbe: lv:Sarkan panda lt:Ma oji panda hu:V r s macskamedve mk: mr: mn: nl:Kleine panda ne: ja: no:R d panda oc:Ailurus fulgens mhr: pnb: koi: pl:Panda ma a pt:Panda-vermelho ro:Panda ro u ru: scn:Panda russu simple:Red Panda sk:Panda erven sl:Ma ji panda sr: fi:Kultapanda sv:Kattbj rn tl:Pulang panda ta: th: tr:K k panda udm: uk: ug: vi:G u tr c wuu:Red Panda zh-yue: zh:

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