Red Panda

This species has no close relatives, so it is now classified in its own family.

Red pandas spend most of their time off the ground, climbing in trees. Much of the day is spent asleep or foraging for food here. When resting, red pandas curl up and wrap their tails around themselves, often remaining hidden in a hollow chamber in a tree, which they line with soft material such as moss. Their diet is very specialized — based on bamboo. Clearance and fragmentation of bamboo forests in various parts of their range is adversely affecting their numbers.

The red panda is a smaller relative of the more familiar giant panda, although modern biologists are unsure exactly how closely related they are. It has partially claws and very tough jaws for chewing the bamboo shoots that are an essential part of its diet. These shoots offer very little nutrition and, like other carnivores, the red panda’s digestive system is very short. Because of this, the red panda has a low metabolic rate, and chews every mouthful thoroughly. In the wild, red pandas are usually solitary creatures, with clearly defined scent-marked territories. They roam through the forests on the slopes of the Himalayas, which are deciduous hardwoods and rhododendrons with a bamboo understorey. Unfortunately, this fragile ecology and their particular diet means that these beautiful creatures are no longer as widespread as they once were.

The beautiful and elusive red panda is known locally as the "fire fox" in its native country of Nepal.

It lives in pairs or family groups. In the spring the female gives birth to 1 to 4 young, usually only 1 or 2, after a gestation period of 112 to 158 days. The longer gestations recorded are thought to include a period of delayed implantation, during which the fertilized egg lies dormant in the womb, only starting to develop at the time that will ensure birth at the optimum season for the young’s survival. The young stay with their mother for up to a year.

Distribution: Mountainous forests in the Himalayan region through southern Asia, from India, Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar (Burma) to Laos and the Chinese provinces of Yunnan and Sichuan.

Habitat: Highland bamboo forests.

Weight: 4 - 6kg (9 - 13 lb).

Length: Up to about 107 cm (42 in), including tail.

Maturity: About 18 months.

Gestation Period: 112-158 days.

Breeding: 1-5, but averaging 2; the current population is only 2500 individuals.

Food:  Feeds largely on bamboo shoots, gripped with their bony wrists; also eats other vegetation, berries, mushrooms, as well as birds’ eggs and nestlings.

Lifespan: 12-14 years.

Status: Lower risk.

Colouration

Rich russet fur with black legs and underparts.

Ears

The ears are broad and pointed, whitish in colour and set low on the head.

Standing tall

The Red Pandas can stand up on their hind legs.

Facial markings

Brown stripes extend below the eyes; the muzzle is white.

Tail

The tail is thick and well-furred, with lighter rings along its length.

GROUND LEVEL

It is usually only at night that red pandas leave the trees to roam on the ground, where they move more slowly.

Gallery of Red Panda