The black-and-white giant panda may have worldwide popularity, but the bewitching and arboreal “other bamboo eater” has its own allure. Surprisingly, red panda fossils have been discovered in North America that date as far back as 5 million years. Today, however, red pandas are only found in small, isolated mountain territories above 4,000 feet in China, Nepal, India, Bhutan, and Burma.
The red panda is slightly larger than a domestic cat with a bear-like body and thick russet fur. The belly and limbs are black, and there are white markings on the side of the head and above its small eyes. Red pandas are very skillful and acrobatic animals that predominantly stay in trees. Almost 50% of the red panda’s habitat is in the Eastern Himalayas. They use their long, bushy tails for balance and to cover themselves in winter, presumably for warmth
Habitat and Behavior
The red panda shares the giant panda’s rainy, high-altitude forest habitat, but has a wider range. Red pandas live in the mountains of Nepal and northern Myanmar (Burma), as well as in central China.
These animals spend most of their lives in trees and even sleep aloft. When foraging, they are most active at night as well as in the gloaming hours of dusk and dawn.
Red pandas have a taste for bamboo but, unlike their larger relatives, they eat many other foods as well—fruit, acorns, roots, and eggs. Like giant pandas, they have an extended wrist bone that functions almost like a thumb and greatly aids their grip.
Breeding and Population
They are shy and solitary except when mating. Females give birth in the spring and summer, typically to one to four young. Young red pandas remain in their nests for about 90 days, during which time their mother cares for them. (Males take little or no interest in their offspring.)
The red panda has given scientists taxonomic fits. It has been classified as a relative of the giant panda, and also of the raccoon, with which it shares a ringed tail. Currently, red pandas are considered members of their own unique family—the Ailuridae.
Red pandas are an at-risk species, victims of deforestation. Their natural space is shrinking as more and more forests are destroyed by logging and the spread of agriculture.
Bamboo constitutes 85 to 95 percent of the red panda’s diet. Unlike giant pandas that feed on nearly every above-ground portion of bamboo (including the culm, or woody stem), red pandas feed selectively on the most nutritious leaf tips and, when available, tender shoots.
Like giant pandas, red pandas grasp plant stems using their forepaws and shear selected leaves off with their mouths. Because red pandas are obligate bamboo eaters, they are on a tight energy budget for much of the year. They may also forage for roots, succulent grasses, fruits, insects and grubs, and are known to occasionally kill and eat birds and small mammals.
IUCN has declared red panda as vulnerable due to human beings who hunt them down and destroy their home.