- Quick facts about the red panda
- Name & taxonomy
- Habits & lifestyle
- Habitat & endangerment
- Red panda in society & culture
The Red panda is a cuddly little creature that resembles a teddy bear. Gentle in nature, red pandas live high on trees, eat bamboo, and go about their lives without bothering anyone.
Sadly, in recent times, the adorable animal is facing the threat of extinction due to a gradual encroachment of its habitat by humans. It is thus essential to know and teach our children about this species and how to prevent it from becoming endangered.
Quick Facts About The Red Panda
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Name & Taxonomy
- The name panda comes from the Nepali word called “poonya,” which means bamboo eater.
- The red panda is not related to the giant panda but is more closely related to a raccoon.
- Before the discovery of the giant panda, the red panda was simply called panda. It was known to the western world way before the black & white giant panda came into limelight.
- Red pandas were once considered to be of the bear family. However, extensive DNA analysis found that they belong to a family of their own.
- They are the only living members of their biological family called Ailuridae. All other members of the family are extinct.
- There are two subspecies of the red panda: fulgens and styani. Pandas of the styani subspecies are usually larger and with deeper fur color when compared to fulgens subspecies.
- Red panda goes by other several English names, the most popular ones being firefox, fire cat, and red cat. Some scientific researchers also refer to the animal as the lesser panda.
- When zoologists discovered the red panda, they thought it resembled a cat since the size of the animal is quite similar to that of a domestic cat.
- The red panda lives for eight years on an average, although those living in captivity may live up to 14 years.
- In rare instances, captive red pandas may live up to 23 years.
- The body of an adult panda (except the tail) usually stands at 22 – 24.6 inches (56 – 62.5 centimeters). Interestingly, their tail alone can measure at 14.6 – 18.6 inches (37 to 47.2 centimeters).
- The wrist bone extends to create a false thumb, which allows the animal to have an optimum grip. Red panda shares the extended wrist bone feature with the giant panda.
- The fur on the back and above the limbs is reddish brown. The fur on the limbs and belly is black.
- An adult male red panda can weigh about 8.8-13.3 pounds (4 – 6.5 kilograms). Females weigh between 6.6-13.2 pounds (3-6 kilograms).
- Red pandas have furry feet. It helps them have a better grip when walking in snow.
- Cubs are covered with fur and are almost blind with their eyes closed at birth. A single cub weighs about 3 – 4 ounces (approx. 90 to 110 grams).
- They have sharp claws almost resembling that of a cat. The red panda’s claws help it grip the bark of the tree while climbing.
- Claws are semi-retractile, which means the animal can partially withdraw the claws within the paw.
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Habits & Lifestyle
- The red panda uses the tail to wrap itself when the weather is cold. The tail makes a great blanket when it is snowing. It explains why they have such long, bushy tails.
- The long tail of the animal also has another functional benefit: it helps the animal balance its weight when walking on narrow tree branches.
- They are mostly nocturnal. They may also forage for food during dusk and dawn.
- Red pandas show most activity during colder weather and tend to become lethargic when the weather gets warm.
- Red pandas spend the majority of their time on tree tops and thus are arboreal animals.
- The Red panda is mostly solitary except during mating season.
- It is less common to see red pandas live in pairs and rare to see them stay in family groups.
- It is a quiet animal and has very few vocalizations such as twitter and squeal. Sometimes they may hiss or grunt. Cubs whistle or bleat often to call their mother.
- Just like a dog, red pandas pant during warm weather to cool their bodies and regulate their body temperature.
- Male red pandas fight while standing on their hind legs and strike each other with their claws.
- Female red pandas have a gestation period of 130 days (about four months and ten days).
- Females give birth to three to four cubs during spring or summer.
- Red pandas do not stay in pairs, and only females raise the cubs.
- The female makes a nest in tree stumps, tree holes or bamboo thickets before giving birth to the cubs. Nests are usually lined with leaves or moss.
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- The main food of the red panda is bamboo branches. It also eats fruit, insects, small reptiles, and bird eggs sometimes.
- Bamboo makes 85-90% of a Red panda’s diet. They prefer the leaves and shoots of the plant.
- Although they spend most of the time on trees, they may descend to the ground to dig out roots and grass to eat when they are very hungry.
- A red panda is heavily dependent on its habitat for food and may not migrate to other areas to look for extra food, unlike other animals. It makes the animal very sensitive to any habitat destruction.
- Red pandas avoid water. They get most of their water intake from their solid diet.
Habitat & Endangerment
- A single red panda will command a forest area of one square mile, which is their territory.
- Red panda’s natural habitat spreads across five countries namely China, India, Nepal, Burma, and Bhutan.
- In their natural habitat, the top predator of a red panda is the snow leopard.
- Red pandas prefer colder climates and do not like temperatures above 25°C (77°F).
- At any sign of danger, the red panda will scurry up the nearest tree. If cornered, a red panda will stand on its hind legs and defend itself with its sharp paws and teeth.
- There are less than 10,000 red pandas left in the wild, and their numbers are slowly declining.
- The red panda is at risk of poaching and losing its habitat due to deforestation. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared the red panda as an endangered animal in the year 2008.
- About 70% of red panda habitat falls outside government protected areas, which makes conservation of the animal even more essential.
- Red pandas that live in captivity undergo some basic training to help them interact with human beings. However, if they show no interest in training, then the panda is not trained forcefully.
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Red Panda In Society & Culture
- A company called Mozilla chose the red panda as the software icon for its internet browser called Firefox, which is another name for the Red panda.
- In the popular animated film Kung Fu Panda, the character of Shifu, who is the Kung Fu teacher, is a Red panda.
- Every year, the Indian state of Sikkim organizes a music event called the Red Panda Festival. The red panda is the state animal of Sikkim.
- Every year, the international community of conversationalists picks a date in September as the International Red Panda Day. Various zoos and natural history organizations conduct events on this day to spread awareness about red panda conservation.
- Although it is perceived as cute and cuddly, the red panda cannot be domesticated. These pandas are wild animals and under no circumstance can they become pets.
Red pandas are fascinating creatures partly because they are shy and avoid human contact when in the wild. No matter how recluse an animal, it plays a vital role in the ecosystem. Protecting red pandas and respecting their habitat is the best way to ensure the population of this calm and gentle animal thrives forever.
Do you know of any more interesting facts about the red pandas? Share your insights and experiences in the comments section.