Reddish-brown and around the size of a house cat, the red panda is famous for its cute face and adorable defence stance. Their facial markings include white eyebrows, red lines joining their eyes to the corners of their mouth, and fluffy white ears.
Their bodies are russet red on top and black on the underside, and they have long, thick tails patterned with rings of red, brown, and white. Red pandas spend much of their time in the trees in their mountain forest habitats, swinging from branch to branch.
With semi-retractable claws, they cling to branches easily, and their flexible ankles allow them to climb down trees headfirst. This allows for quick escapes from would-be predators, while their fur helps them hide in their woody surroundings.
Red pandas have two layers of fur to help keep them insulated in the cold Asian mountains—a soft undercoat and coarse hairs covering it. They also wrap their fluffy tails around themselves for extra warmth.
As you might expect from the “panda” in their name, red pandas live almost entirely on bamboo. They eat as much as four pounds per day and have extended wrist bones known as false thumbs, which help them grip bamboo stalks.
Red pandas are nocturnal and often live alone, except during mating season or when they are raising young. Females are only fertile for a couple of days each year, giving red pandas a very short reproduction window.
Red pandas help balance their forest ecosystems by providing food for their natural predators, which include snow leopards and jackals. They also assist in regulating bamboo populations, which without them could grow out of control and affect the growth of other plants.
What is the red panda's scientific name?
The red panda’s scientific name is Ailurus fulgens, meaning “fire-coloured cat” in Latin. The Chinese name for the animal is similar, meaning “fire fox.” A little-known red panda fact is that they were first scientifically described by zoologists in 1825—48 years before the giant panda, earning them the title of the original panda.
They are sometimes also known as lesser pandas, referring to their size compared to the giant panda. The two species are not closely related but share a name primarily due to their similar diets—the word “panda” comes from the Nepali term for “bamboo eaters.”
Are red pandas endangered?
Red pandas are classified as endangered by the IUCN. Research suggests their population has declined by 50% over the past 18 years. Threats to red pandas include habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, hunting, illegal pet trade, and disease.
Where do red pandas live?
Red pandas live in the mountainous forests of Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, and Nepal. Almost 50% of their habitat is in the Eastern Himalayas. In the forest, red pandas spend much of their time in trees, using their semi-retractable claws for grip, flexible ankles for agility, and long tails for balance. However, most of their feeding happens on the ground.
They stay high up in the mountains at an altitude of around 2,500-4,000 metres, where rain is frequent and temperatures are lower. They live at these higher altitudes because the heat in lowland areas can be dangerous for them.
Red pandas face a number of threats, including habitat fragmentation, disease, hunting, and illegal pet trade, all of which continue to impact this endangered species.
One of the main threats facing red pandas is the loss and fragmentation of their habitat. When human settlements, development, or other types of activity separate sections of the red panda’s range, the ecosystems are disturbed.
This leads to poor survival rates for the red pandas, who often can’t find enough bamboo and other food sources when their habitats are fragmented. The fragmentation also increases the impact of natural disasters like cyclones, landslides, floods, and forest fires because it’s harder for red pandas to relocate when suitable areas no longer share common borders.
Red pandas are highly susceptible to canine distemper, a disease they contract from contact with dogs from human settlements. Increased human activity presents higher chances of contact between red pandas and dogs, and unless all dogs in these areas are vaccinated, chances of widespread contraction are high.
Hunting is another issue, both purposeful and accidental. Humans sometimes hunt red pandas for their fur, and red pandas also get caught in deadly traps intended for other species.
Illegal pet trade
Poachers also capture red pandas for the illegal pet trade, which the IUCN notes could be in response to the animal’s recent popularity on social media.
What do red pandas eat?
The red panda’s diet is 98% bamboo, but unlike giant pandas, they will also gather food from other sources. They sometimes eat acorns, fruit, roots, eggs, rodents, and small birds.
Red pandas usually gather and eat food at night. During the day, they rest and sunbathe in the forest canopy.
Are red pandas dangerous?
Red pandas are not dangerous animals, but they do have aggressive tendencies. When a red panda stands on its hind legs and raises its arms, it displays a defensive stance and may attack the threat with its claws and teeth.
Where are red pandas from?
Red pandas are from Asia, living in rainy, mountainous forests at high altitudes. Their range covers areas of China, India, Bhutan, Myanmar, and Nepal.
Is a red panda a bear?
Red pandas are the sole member of the family Ailuridae. Previous classifications put them in the racoon family and bear family, but DNA research later ruled both of these out.
How long do red pandas live?
Red pandas typically live for 8-10 years in the wild.
What does a red panda look like?
Red pandas have russet-red fur on their backs and heads, black fur on their stomachs, and coloured rings of red, brown, and white on their tails. They have distinctive facial markings, including white tufts for eyebrows and deep reddish lines extending from their eyes to the corner of their mouth.
They also have fluffy white ears, fluffy tails, and fluffy paws. Their appearance has earned them a lot of attention from humans for being cute, much like the giant panda.
How big are red pandas?
Red pandas are around the size of a domesticated cat. Their head and body measure around 50-65 centimetres, with their tails adding an extra 50 centimetres. Their weight ranges from three to six kilograms, with no significant difference between males and females.
What are red pandas related to?
Red pandas belong to their own unique family group, which shares traits with raccoons, weasels, and skunks. Giant pandas, on the other hand, are part of a family of bears named Ursidae.
Red pandas and giant pandas do share a common ancestry, but they diverged approximately 43 million years ago and developed their bamboo diets and fake thumbs in isolation from each other. This evolution of similar traits in different species is called convergent evolution.
How many red pandas are left?
The IUCN notes that while scientists have made multiple attempts to collect population data on red pandas, the results are not consistent enough to provide accurate numbers. Other organisations, such as WWF, have published estimates of less than 10,000 individuals.
How can you help?
Red pandas are endangered due to the growing threats they face, which include habitat fragmentation, disease, hunting, and illegal pet trade.