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Monday, January 15, 2018

About the Red Panda

Red pandas, like giant pandas, are bamboo eaters native to Asia’s high forests. Despite these similarities and their shared name, the two species are not closely related. Red pandas are much smaller than giant pandas and are the only living member of their taxonomic family.
Red pandas are endangered and are legally protected in India, Bhutan, China, Nepal and Myanmar. Their primary threats are habitat loss and degradation, human interference and poaching.

Researchers believe that the total population of red pandas has declined by 50 percent over the past two decades. It is probable that this decline will continue in the coming years. Red pandas are present in some protected areas throughout their range, including parks in Myanmar, Bhutan, India, Nepal and China. Despite regulations, livestock grazing, hunting and logging still occur throughout many of these protected areas.
Habitat loss is primarily attributed to logging, grazing livestock, demand for firewood, human encroachment and farming. The decrease in suitable habitat for red pandas has coincided with the increase in human populations throughout Asia; with human encroachment comes livestock, agriculture and dogs, all of which produce different threats to this species.
Herds of livestock can compete with red pandas for available bamboo leaves and degrade their habitat. Clearing land to make way for crops reduces available food and shelter. And domestic dogs can hunt or transmit disease, such as canine distemper, to red pandas. Additionally, fragmentation resulting from habitat loss has resulted in inbreeding, as red panda populations become increasingly isolated.

Poaching and illegal trade of red pandas has reportedly been on the rise and has also contributed to their population decline. The presence of red panda pelts, meat and other items has increased in the trade of illegal products, as have instances of live red pandas trafficked into the pet trade.

These threats are compounded by increasing climate change and natural disasters, inadequate enforcement of laws and regulations, and limited investment in red panda conservation by local governments.

Red pandas have bred with some reliability in zoos throughout North America, Europe and Asia. As they decline in the wild, growing and maintaining self-sustaining populations in zoos is a high priority as a hedge against extinction and to learn more about species biology.

Part of the difficulty in conserving red pandas relates to their unique habitat. These animals require a specific set of circumstances to optimize survival, including proximity to water sources, appropriate forest cover and altitude, and sufficient bamboo. As human encroachment continues to grow, these ideal habitats become increasingly more difficult to find. Bamboo grows unreliably in degraded habitats, which adds additional stress to the situation.

The Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute has been at the forefront of red panda conservation, with more than 100 surviving cubs born since 1962.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature has prioritized four major categories of action for conserving red pandas: protect against habitat loss, reduce habitat degradation, reduce deaths of red pandas (through poaching and removing man-made threats) and improve awareness.

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