The red panda, scientifically known as ailurus fulgens, is related to both the giant panda and raccoons. Measuring around 42 inches (about 106 centimeters) from its head to its long bushy tail and weighing 7-20 pounds (3-9 kilograms), it resembles its raccoon cousin more. They use their long tails to balance themselves when climbing a tree as well as to keep itself warm in the winter. They will spend the majority of their time in the treetops and can live up to 12 years.
Red Pandas can be found in mountainous areas in central Asia such as northern Myanmar, Nepal, and central China. They will usually remain at altitudes of 1800 feet (548 meters), but they can even go upwards of 4500 feet (1371 meters). They prefer the cooler temperature of the mountains and even share some of their habitat with the giant panda. During the day, they tend to be less active and will just relax up in the treetops. As it gets cooler in the evening, they will begin to hunt for their food. Their razor-sharp claws, along with the wooly hair on the heels of their feet allow them to agilely move through the trees, even if the branches are wet.
Like their giant panda cousin, the majority of the red panda’s diet consists of bamboo (around 90 percent). This is due to the fact that their bodies are unable to digest cellulose. Unlike the giant panda however, the red panda will also eat things such as small birds, nuts, berries, roots, eggs and fruits. Their powerful jaws and sharp teeth greatly help to break the bamboo into smaller pieces. They also have an extended wrist bone that they use like a thumb to help grasp their food.
Breeding season for the red panda takes place from December to February. In fact mating is the only time that a red panda will spend any time with another. The female will carry the baby for about 5 months. She will then give birth to a litter of 1-4 baby red pandas. The mother will take care of her young (the father takes little to no interest in them) until the next mating season. By that time, the young ones will have reached adult size and ventured off on their own.
Unfortunately, the red panda also shares the label of “endangered” with its giant panda relative. While its biggest threat is habitat loss, they are also hunted due to their fur being considered a good luck charm by the local people. Such a unique creature deserves our respect and our protection, and with some effort a solution can surely be found. Hopefully the red panda will prosper for many years to come.
“Red Panda” 8 November 2010
“Red Pandas” 8 November 2010