Earlier this week, we talked about Giant Pandas. In case you missed it, or if you want to read it again, you can find it here. Today, we are going to be discussing another beloved Chinese creature who also bears the name panda: the Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens).
Red pandas look very different from their large black-and-white cousins. They are about the size of a house cat and are a beautiful red color, hence their name. They have a large bushy ringed tail which they use to wrap around branches in order to grant them stability while up in the trees. Red pandas spend most of their time in trees, in fact, usually leaving their branches for a bit at night and at dawn or dusk. Red pandas also lead very solitary lives, meeting each other only during the time of mating. Baby red pandas stay with their mothers for around 90 days, during which time the mothers will care for them and the fathers aren’t around. A litter of panda cubs can be up to four, although most mothers produce twins.
Red pandas like to live in the same type of habitat as giant pandas, although their range is much wider. They like to be in the same high-altitude, rainy forests as Giant Pandas because they also like to eat bamboo, although their diets consist of nuts, fruits, and eggs also. While bamboo is an important part of their diet, they can only digest about 24% of the amount of bamboo they ingest. In order to get their nutrients, they need to eat 2-4 pounds of bamboo shoots and leaves daily.
You may have heard that Red Pandas aren’t really pandas or bears at all. This is true, although the answer that is often told instead is also untrue. Red Pandas are neither closely related to ursids (bears) nor mustelids (raccoons, skunks, ferrets), and they are currently classified as their own family, Ailuridae. There is only one extant species of the Ailurus genus, although there are eight extinct ancestors of the Red Panda, too. Their latest ancestor lived 3-4 million years ago. Some scientists argue that there is enough difference between the Red Pandas living in China to those in the Himalayas to warrant the classification of two species, although many consider them only subspecies.
Interestingly, the name pandas was originally applied to Red Pandas before Giant Pandas. In 1825, almost 50 years before the Giant Pandas would be classified, French zoologist Frédéric Cuvier named the Red Panda for their shining coat of fur. The name panda is thought to come from the Nepalese word for them, ponya.
Red pandas are classified as endangered and their populations are decreasing quickly. Estimates wildly vary for the number of individuals left in the wold, from 10,000 to 2,500. The danger largely comes from deforestation, although hunting may also be increasing. Luckily, there are 35 protected areas in China alone, and more in India, Nepal, and Bhutan.
I hope you found all of this information interesting. Do you know something about the Red Pandas that I didn’t mention? Be sure to comment down below. Until next time, thanks for reading and goodbye!