Biology

The red panda, the great unknown

The red pandas are small mammals with long, hairy tails, which have characteristics red and white marks on her silky hair. Although they share a name and some customs and characteristics with the famous giant panda, they are not actually closely related.

Taxonomic background

The red panda
The red panda

It was apparently Frédéric Cuvier , a French zoologist, who first described the red panda in 1825, some 48 years before the giant panda was listed. He considered it the most beautiful animal he had ever seen and taxonomized it as Ailurus fulgens , which means “bright or fire-colored cat.”

It is estimated that the name of red panda is derived from one of the most common and ancient Nepalese names for these animals, nigalya ponya , which would have meant “bamboo eater”. The giant panda was later given its name due to the similarities to red .

The red panda
The red panda

Red pandas were originally classified as relatives of the raccoon family, the Procyonidae , due to physical similarities, such as the head, teeth, and ringed tail, according to the Smithsonian National Zoo.

Later, due to some DNA similarities, they were classified as bears in the Ursidae family . Recent genetic research places them in their own family, Ailuridae , since they have no living relatives, and their closest fossil ancestors lived 3-4 million years ago.

Size and description

The red panda
The red panda

The size of a red panda is similar to that of a domestic cat. It is 51 to 66 centimeters long from head to rump and its tail can average another 25.4 to 51 cm. Its weight varies according to sex, between 4.5 to 9 kilograms.

Its head is large and round, with a short muzzle and prominent pointed ears; their coat pattern is smooth, reddish-brown, although their faces are mostly white with reddish stripes that extend from the eyes to the corner of the mouth, and the legs are dark, almost black.

The red panda
The red panda

The red panda’s tail is long and bushy with alternating red and white rings, helping it balance as it climbs the trees. The long, sharp claws are evolutionary instruments that allow them to reach the highest branches to bask in the sun or escape predators, according to the San Diego Zoo.

The red panda
The red panda

One characteristic that the red panda shares with the giant panda is a modified wrist bone, which has a function similar to that of a thumb and gives them the ability to grasp the bamboo branches for food.

Habitat and diet

The red panda
The red panda

They live in the mountains of Nepal, central China and northern Myanmar in the high-altitude rainforests and tropical forests, where there are undergrowths of bamboo, a plant from which the shoots and tips of leaves are eaten. They can also forage roots, fallen grass and fruit, and sometimes eggs, insects, birds, and small mammals.

Red panda habits

The red panda is primarily twilight so they are most active at dawn or dusk. They are solitary creatures and especially the males are very territorial and will mark their territory with a strong smell coming from one of the gland located at the base of their tail.

They usually spend most of their time in the trees, eating and sleeping without stepping on the ground. At night in periods of low temperature, they wrap themselves in their fluffy tails, to keep warm.

Offspring

The red panda
The red panda

Females give birth to three to four young (they are prone to producing twins) during spring and summer after a gestation period of 114 to 145 days , using stumps, hollow trees or rocky crevices to make burrows that cover with moss , earth and branches. The little ones stay with their mother until they reach maturity at 18/20 months and their life expectancy is 8 to 10 years in the wild and 15 in zoos.

State of conservation

The red panda
The red panda

The red panda is considered endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The population is believed to have declined by 50% in the past 18 years, and this level of decline is expected to continue, and perhaps intensify, over the next three generations. The probable number of wild adults is around 10,000.

The decline in the red panda population is due almost exclusively to deforestation . Poaching is an additional problem, since they are sold as pets. They are conserved in National Protected parks of which there are 35 in China, 20 in India, 8 in Nepal and 5 in Bhutan.

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