You know all about pandas – those rare, tubby, bamboo eating cuties. But what do you know about the red panda?
By Arwa Lodhi
Just look at that face! Have you ever seen anything so damn adorable? It’s as though a racoon had a baby with a bear. So, just what is this cutie of a creature? A red panda, my friends!
Like Sean Combs, this creature goes by several other names, including the lesser panda, the red bear-cat and red cat-bear. If you haven’t seen one hanging around, it’s probably because you don’t live in the eastern Himalayas or southwestern China, its natural habitats.
But it could also be because they’re critically endangered.
The main issues facing these little guys are a decline due to habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching, and inbreeding. Some people think they’re so cute, they poach them as pets, and that means they can’t breed.
That being said, at least red pandas are protected by national laws in their range countries; yet still, the creature has been classified as endangered by the IUCN because its wild population is estimated at less than 10,000 mature individuals and continues to decline. Some charities even claim numbers in the wild are actually as low as less than 2,500.
That’s really sad, because these guys are definitely unique in the world – they boast fluffy, reddish-brown fur, a long, shaggy tail, and they kind of waddle because it has shorter front legs. It mainly eats bamboo, just like a greater panda, but they’ll eat insects, eggs, and even birds in a pinch. They enjoy being alone, and like house cats, they’re most active from dusk to dawn, and love to get some (well, lots of!) beauty sleep during the day.
What is this thing?
These animals were initially hard to classify. They’re the only living species of the genus Ailurus and the family Ailuridae. Previously, they were placed in the raccoon or bear families, but the results of phylogenetic analysis provided strong support for its taxonomic classification in its own family, Ailuridae, which is part of the superfamily Musteloidea, along with the weasel, raccoon and skunk families.
Despite being, apparently, more like a skunk in terms of classification, the red panda is pretty much a cat: it’s territorial; is pretty solitary (except during mating season); doesn’t make much noise except for a bit of twittering or tweeting when it’s looking for a mate. They love to climb trees and sleep in branches, and to clean itself, it licks its paw and rubs it all over its body – just like a kitty!
These guys are really heat sensitive, and will sleep with their limbs hanging over a branch when it’s hot, and curled up with their tails over their faces when it’s cold. If it gets over 25 °C (77 °F), they just cannot take it, and could die from heat exhaustion. They’re sensitive little creatures.
More fun facts on the red panda
*They love to rub their backs and bellies along the sides of trees or rocks.
*Like cats, they patrol their territories, marking with urine and a weak musk-smelling secretion
*They search for food running along the ground or through the trees.
*Predators of the red panda include the snow leopard, mustelids, and, sadly, stupid humans.
*A red panda, Futa, became a visitor attraction in Japan for his ability to stand upright for ten seconds at a time
*In Kung Fu Panda 3, there’s a red panda character called Shifu
How you can help
Are you in love with these little guys yet? If you’d like to help to save the red panda – and they really do need saving – please take a look at this site. Every little helps! Even sharing this article could get the word out there.
And if you’d like to know more about all different kinds of animals, check out FactRetriever, where you can find more facts about endangered animals.
All images: courtesy of the Red Panda network