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Life And Characteristics Of The Red Panda

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Red panda, Ailurus fulgens is unique animal of carnivora family that just has a single species and probably falls under monotypic family. Although they are found from Mugu to Ilam district inside eight different protected areas and one community forest of Nepal, the total population is not known. Their preferred habitat is the bamboo-dominated vegetation of evergreen deciduous forest within an average altitudinal range of 2,400m to 3,600m with abundant fallen logs and tree stumps. The red panda diet comprises 54-100% of bamboo leaves with others like bamboos shoots, Sorbus fruits and mushroom depending upon the seasons. This low quality diet makes them active day and night making vulnerable to different anthropogenic factors and even predation by leopards. Habitat fragmentation, deforestation and degradation, poaching, over grazing, over exploitation of forest resources, developmental activities, other human disturbances and feral dogs are the major threats for red panda. National Park and Wildlife Conservation Act, 1973 tries to protect red panda along with its habitat. A community based conservation approach is also being practiced in Choyatar Community Forest, Ilam. Beside this only Langtang National Park has a specific conservation plan for red panda. As the species is vulnerable to extinction with the low population density a focused conservation and management plan should be formulated and implemented with the active participation of local people.


The Red Panda Ailurus fulgens is a small arboreal mammal and the only species of genus Ailurus and family Ailuridae. It is a threatened mammal listed as vulnerable by the IUCN and is found in the bamboo dominated temperate forest of eastern Himalaya (Sharma and Belant, 2009). Although it has interested many researchers and scientists only little knowledge and research has been done so far. It is one of the favorite animals for the zoo visitor with its unique taxonomic features. It is still ambiguous whether it belongs to bears, procyonids or the giant panda Ailuropoda melanoleuca and may thus have obtained the status of monotypic subfamily (Yonzon and Hunter Jr, 1991).

Apart from the world´s zoo the status of red panda in the wild is poorly known. There were about 157 red pandas in 43 zoos in 1988 around the world. The exact population of world´s wild red panda is unknown because of the difficulty of it´s study as it occupies the difficult rough remote terrains and has simply been estimated to be 13,000 to 16,000 individuals among which 3,800 to 5,000 are Ailurus fulgens styani and 9,200 to 11,000 Ailurus fulgens fulgens. Red pandas are the silent creatures, which are both diurnal and nocturnal. They are basically a bamboo eater with strong, curved and sharp semi-retractile claws. The home range or the crude density of red panda may depend upon the age of an animal. The sub-adult female of 8 months old occupies 3.4km2 whereas the adult female occupies 0.91km2 and male 1.11km2 in Wolong Reserve, China. Habitat condition plays an important role in occurrence of red panda. Besides the dense bamboo forest, closeness to water may be the basic requirements for their habitat. The presence of pellet groups at 0 to 100m range of water body or in different substrates like fallen logs, tree stumps, rocks, tree holes shows the habitat requisite of red pandas

Red pandas are the flagships for numerous species and even for the people sharing the mountain forests.

The availability of red panda extends within a narrow band of Himalaya range, starting from Mugu district of western Nepal along with Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh of India, Bhutan, northern Burma, southeastern Tibet, to west Yunan, Sichuan and Shaanxi provision of China. This shows that the distribution limits between the Annapurna regions of Nepal in west to the Qingling mountains of china in east. Few of the studies have been conducted in Nepal; it is thus difficult to assess the status of pandas from the available literatures. The late Pralad Yonzon was the first conservation biologist to study red panda in the mid hills of Nepal. He has studied about the conservation of red pandas in Lantang National Park. Also, the study about the summer diet of red panda, habitat distribution and abundance of red panda has been conducted in Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve and even the status of red panda outside the protected area in eastern Nepal has been studied. Recently there are few organizations like RPN, NCDC, ICIMOD working along with the local participation for the conservation and protection of red panda and it´s habitat.

Population Distribution and Habitats

Red panda can be found in different habitats from evergreen forest to deciduous forest or coniferous forest that have the dominancy of bamboo species but they have the distinct preference of habitat that comprise of abundant fallen logs and tree stumps. Red panda are found in eight different protected areas of Nepal viz: Annapurna Conservation Area, Kangchenjunga Conservation Area, Manaslu Conservation Area, Langtang National Park, Makalu-Barun National Park, Rara National Park, Sagarmatha National Park and Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve. Apart from these protected area it is also found in community managed government forest of eastern Nepal, in the Jamuna and Mabhu VDC of Ilam.

It is extremely infrequent to encounter or have a proper sighting of red panda in the wild, so must of the studies are done based on the availability of the pellets and walking along the trails. According to Yonzon and Hunter Jr, 1991 among the habitats of red pandas with different vegetation types – fir-jhapra, rhododendron, broadleaved forests-raate, birch and alpine scrub; fir-jhapra with the narrow altitudinal range of 2,800m to 3,900m was the most preferred in Langtang National Park, Nepal. Even the study conducted in Sikkim, India shows that the red panda were found within the short altitudinal range of 2,210m to 3,570m. Though the population of red panda was distributed along the entire Singhalila National Park of India, the availability and density of pellet groups, red panda encounter rates showed that they were abundant in broad-leaf deciduous and sub-alpine forest within the altitudinal range of 2,800-3,600m.

The study of Yonzon and Hunter Jr, 1991 in Langtang National Park shows the population status of red panda accordingly. The total adult population was 8 in October 1986 and 5 in October 1987. During the study, among five observed small litters one set of twins and four single births was found. The proportion of fecund female was high but the cub mortality was also high. In between September 1986 to December 1986 only one cub survives whereas 86% of cohort i.e. 5 or 6 cubs died. Similarly, in 1987 67% of cohort i.e. 4 cubs died and only two survived by October. Also the adult mortality was high, 4 out of 9 adults died only in year 1987. Leopard predated the 2 adults and one cub, while humans killed one adult and then a cub died due starvation and two other cubs were also killed due human disturbances. Finally based on ecological density of one adult panda/2.9km2 the total estimated population would be 37 adults. Similarly, the crude density of red panda estimated in Singhalila National Park was 1adult/1.67km2, which was comparatively higher than that of Langtang National Park 1adult/2.9km2.

The pellet groups were observed within the site with abundance of bamboos and available water resources from 3,000m to 3,600m with higher frequency of occurrence from 3,000m to 3,500m in Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve. Similarly red panda pellet groups were observed from 3,117m to 3,591m with higher frequency of occurrence from 3,200m to 3,350m and then constant up to 3,400m while there were no any pellets found above 3,591m and below 3,100m in Rara National Park. In Jamuna and Mabhu community forest red panda signs were recorded from 2,500m to 3,000m with the rate of 0.56/km from 2,400-2,600m, 2.44/km from 2,600-2,800m and 5.1/km from 2,800-3,000m.

Apart from the ground the encounter of pellets or red panda was mostly seen on different tree species found on different physiographical or geographical regions. Some of those tree species are Pinus wallichina, Quercus semicarpefolia, Betula utilis, Juniperus indica, Sorbus cuspidate, Rhododendron sps, Sorbus microphylla, Schefflera impressa, Himalayacalamus falconeri, Thamnocalamus aristatus, Lindera pulcherrima, Arundinaria maling, Tsuga dumosa, with the higher frequency in Abies spectabilis

Diet and Feeding habit

Red panda is difficult to track in the wild so its food and feeding habits are analysed from their fresh droppings as these are roughly digested and can be easily separated. Being the member of carnivora they have an unusual diet that primarily comprise of bamboo shoots, Sorbus fruits and mushrooms and sometimes the eggs of birds

The diet of red panda´s found in Langtang National Park includes mostly the leaves of single bamboo species jhapra almost about 54-100% around the year and even few other items depending upon the seasons like jhapra and raate shoots in spring and summer and Sorbus fruits and mushrooms in late summer and autumn and may be because of this low quality diet they are active 56% of total time throughout day and night. Similarly, it has been found that the red panda in Singhalila National Park consumed the leaves of Arundinaria maling, Arundinaria aristata, fruits of Arundinaria strigosa and bamboo shoots in temperate region while Arundinaria aristata, bamboo shoots and berries of Sorbus microphylla. There were six different plant species identified and 2.5% of the diet was unidentifiable in the pellets of red panda in Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve. The identified species were Arundinaria sps (81.7%), Acer sps (4.5%), Quercus semicarpifolia (3.3%), Berberis sps (2.1%) and lichens (2%) and among the consumption of Arundinaria sps 58% was the stem portion whereas 23.75% the leaf.

Red Panda have the short alimentary canal so defecate immediately after feeding. Since they feed on low calorie diet they usually spent most of their time feeding and feed a large amount of food. They usually use elevated objects like fallen logs, branches, small shrubs, tree stumps to get the bamboo leaves easily. They run in the ground or in the trees searching for food and place foods in the mouth directly by mouth or with the help of forepaws.


The population of red panda does not have any reliable number (Ziegler et al., 2010); they are threatened and vulnerable to extinction because of habitat fragmentation, deforestation and it´s natural habitat degradation and destruction, poaching for hats, fur or even for “good luck charm” and an illegal trading as pet or zoo animal, tourism and domestic dogs

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. The threat arise due habitat fragmentation is also that it may lead the species towards inbreeding and finally the loss of genetic variation (Mahato, 2012). Similar threats due grazing, establishment of Goths and poaching were also seen in Sighalila National Park in the past but after 1993 the area was declared as national park and thus the exploitation is controlled now.

The study of Yonzon and Hunter Jr, 1991 in Langtang National Park shows that the red panda has low fecundity but high mortality. They reported that 57% of the deaths is due humans either related with cattle herders, overgrazing or may be with their dogs. Though the competition of food may not be important as chauri feeds on bamboo leaves at the lower heights than that of red pandas but they disturbed the abundance of bamboos by trampling and consuming the leaves at shorter stalk reducing its growth, which ultimately threats an existence to them with the scarcity of food. Also as they depend on jhapra shoots, the low quality diets they remain active most of the time either day or night so are more vulnerable to predation by leopards.

According to the study of Subedi and Thapa, 2011, one of the major threats in Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve is the seasonal overgrazing of large numbers of livestock in the forested land that creates a disturbance and destruction of red panda habitat. Besides this illegal trapping of the animal, illegal logging of trees for firewood and timber are other problems associated with the threats of red panda. Even the collection of bamboo shoots for livestock´s calves creates a food competition between red panda and the domesticated animals. As per the study a total of 3,500 buffaloes, 25,000 cows, 3,500 horses and 70,000 goats and sheep graze inside the reserve area that has the direct impact on the habitat of red panda.

Similar results were shown from the study in Rara National Park. People were directly involved for the collection of tree twigs, illegal grazing inside park area, harvesting of nigalo as fodder or raw materials for the preparation of hat, tube of hukka, basket, etc that creates a threat for red panda. Not only in Rara National Park the killing of red panda by the dog is also problem in Jamuna and Mabhu VDCs, Ilam.

The workshop conducted by NTNC from 2 to 6 September 2010 on “Red Panda in Nepal – A Population and Habitat Viability Assessment and Species Conservation Strategy” has finally grouped the threats on seven major categories. They were:

· Loss and degradation of habitat due different human induced causes like forest fire, overgrazing, collection of firewoods, fodder, NTFPs, ineffective pastureland management system and the conflict between the species and transhuman pastoralists.

· Trapping and poaching for fur, skin, meat and for adopting as zoo animals or pets.

· Effect of infrastructural developmental activities like road, hydropower construction, encroachment for agriculture, different alien species, excess use of pesticides and even the eco-tourist or pilgrim visitors.

· Weak governance, inadequate implementation and enforcement of rules and regulations, political instability.

· Lack of awareness, education, funds and expertise.

· Effect of climate change, landslides, floods, sudden outburst, irregular precipitation and snowfall with high intensity and diseases.

· Other transboundary conflicts related to illegal harvesting of forest products, illegal trade and poaching.


Red panda is hard to be observed and found in the wild, so the study is based on surveys, interviews and collecting, observing & analyzing the pellets

Red panda is one of the keystone species with the narrow range of habitat prerequisite that occurs in the eastern Himalayan range. Therefore the proper management and conservation of this species is necessary not only for it´s own conservation but also for the conservation and protection of the entire biodiversity and wildlife species and even the local communities sharing the same habitat range. Still, red panda is poorly known because of it´s low population size and habitat distribution in remote and rough terrain. The studies done so far shows the major threats as human encroachment, illegal hunting, overgrazing, over exploitation of forest products and thus red panda conservation and management plan should be formulated that will address current policies, habitat improvement strategies, alternative livelihood strategies, reintroduction of species and also abide people with strict rules and regulations in utilization of forest resources, control over livestock grazing and feral dogs. Although Nepal has initiated in preparing long-term Species Conservation Action Plan, only Red Panda Action Plan for Langtang National Park has been formulated and there is no any conservation plan in Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve, or in Rara National Park. Thus, an intensive study about it´s habitat selection, behavior, population size and distribution, threats and conservation status is necessary and the conservation and management plan should be prepared along with the focused action plan.

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