Red pandas are adorable tree climbing mammals native to China. They are surprisingly not relatives of the black and white-colored giant panda. These adorable creatures are actually more closely related to raccoons, skunks, and weasels. Read on to learn about the red panda.
Description of the Red Panda
If you hadn’t guessed already, red pandas are orange-red in color. They have a black underbelly and legs, a white face, and white-rimmed ears. Red pandas have long, striped tails that help them maintain their balance. Their front legs are slightly shorter than their rear legs, which gives them a bit of a waddle when they walk.
Interesting Facts About the Red Panda
Red pandas are undeniably cute, but they are also incredibly interesting. These endangered mammals have garnered much more attention following a hilariously adorable viral video.
- Fooled Ya! – Red pandas actually have a fake thumb! The “thumb” is actually not a finger at all, but an extension of the wrist bone. Scientists believe this evolved to help the red pandas climb bamboo. Despite the fact they are not closely related, giant pandas also possess a fake thumb.
- Non-Carnivorous Carnivores – Red pandas are members of the taxonomic group Carnivora. The vast majority of those animals in Carnivora are, you guessed it, carnivores! Red pandas are one of the few animals in the order Carnivora that are not carnivores! Giant pandas, kinkajous, and binturongs, are also herbivorous carnivores.
- Pandas in Danger – Like their unrelated neighbors, the giant pandas, red pandas are endangered. Also like giant pandas, the main threat to the survival of red pandas is habitat destruction and deforestation. Their population has declined by 50% in the past 3 generations.
- Deadly Cheeses – One population of red panda is actually put in danger by cheese production! The Langtang population is located near two cheese factories. The cows that produce the milk for these factories are allowed to graze within the protected park in which the red pandas reside. Cow shepherds and their dogs pose a huge threat to the red pandas in this area, because the farmers believe they compete with their cattle for food.
Habitat of the Red Panda
Red pandas are found within a relatively restricted area. They prefer living in higher altitudes, and must have bamboo to forage for food. Their most frequently used habitats are mountains with deciduous and conifer trees, and bamboo understory.
Distribution of the Red Panda
Red pandas are found in the Himalayan Mountains in China. They live from the Qinling Mountains in Shaanxi Province, to Tibet. Red pandas can be found as far north as the Burma Mountains, and as far south as Sikkim in India. The largest and most stable population is in the Sichuan Province.
Diet of the Red Panda
Approximately two-thirds of the red panda’s diet consists of bamboo. They also eat lichens, mushrooms, grasses, roots, berries, and occasionally small mammals or birds. Because they cannot digest cellulose, the main component in plants, red pandas have to eat copious amounts of bamboo. Because their diet is so low in calories, their days consist mainly of eating and sleeping.
Red Panda and Human Interaction
All around, red pandas have many human threats. Depending on the population location, different threats have varying levels of importance. One of the main threats to red pandas is deforestation and habitat loss due to urbanization.
These animals are also illegally hunted, and poachers sell their pelts and bushy tails, frequently as hats. Domestic livestock also pose a problem, because they compete with red pandas for food.
Red pandas have not been domesticated, but they are successfully bred in zoos.
Does the Red Panda Make a Good Pet
Because they are an endangered species, it is illegal to own a red panda as a pet.
Red Panda Care
Red pandas do a lot of eating and sleeping, so providing plenty of food and napping spots are essential. They must have plenty of trees and branches for climbing, and fresh browse to eat. Zoos feed red pandas bamboo, and supplement their diet with commercially produced herbivore biscuits, grapes, apples, bananas, and other fruits.
Behavior of the Red Panda
Most red pandas are solitary creatures, and only interact with other pandas during the breeding season. They can, however, live together peacefully, and most breeding pairs in zoos remain together year round. Most of their activity occurs at night, and during sunrise and sunset. During the day, they find a nice tree hollow or comfy branch to snooze on.
Reproduction of the Red Panda
Red pandas breed from January through March, and both genders will mate with multiple partners. The female red panda creates a nest in a hollow tree, and gives birth to one or two cubs within it. She will spend most of her time with the cubs during the first week, while they are most vulnerable.
After this she will slowly begin to regain her free time, and remain outside the nest longer. The cubs will begin to explore outside the nest at about three months old. She will wean the cubs by the time they are eight months old, and they will stay with her until she has her next litter.