The red panda belongs to the Musteloidea superfamily, which includes raccoons, weasels, and skunks, yet it is the only species in its particular family, the Ailuridae. The red panda is native to the southeastern regions of China, Nepal, India, Myanmar, and Bhutan. This species can be found throughout the eastern area of the Himalayan mountain range, where it prefers forested habitats. It is divided into two subspecies: Styan’s red panda and the western red panda.
This mammal is easily identified by its rusty reddish-colored fur, white-ringed tail, and white facial markings. It grows to between 20 and 25 inches in length, and has an 11 to 23-inch tail. Males are slightly larger than females, with an average weight of between 8.2 and 13.7 pounds, while females weigh between 6.6 and 13.2 pounds. The red panda's diet consists mainly of bamboo, although it is also known to consume insects, birds, and eggs.
Conservation Status and Threats
Over the last 18 years, which accounts for 3 generations in the life of the red panda, the population size of this species has decreased by approximately 50%. Because of this significant loss and the fact that its population is expected to continue declining, the red panda is listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List.
This species is threatened by a number of factors, including deforestation, habitat degradation, poaching, and disease. Habitat loss has occurred at a slower rate than population loss, estimated at an approximately 25% decline over the last 18 years. Currently, around 55,000 square miles of land is available to the red panda, in fragmented habitats. It only occupies half of this area. As its habitat is fragmented, finding its primary food source becomes increasingly difficult. Additionally, poaching is increasing as the red panda has become more popular in the illegal pet trade. This species is also hunted and killed for its valuable fur coat.
Another serious threat facing the red panda is disease. This species has a high probability of contracting canine distemper, even after being vaccinated. This disease is particularly deadly to the red panda. Recently, the risk of catching this disease has increased because humans infringe upon the red panda’s habitat for agricultural or hunting purposes, bringing dogs infected with canine distemper with them.
Red Panda Population in the Wild
The current red panda population is difficult to estimate and ranges anywhere from 2,500 to 20,000. As mentioned, these red pandas are spread across several countries.
China, for example, is home to just over 42% of all red panda habitats and as of 1999, has a red panda population of between 3,000 and 7,000.
In India, the population is believed to be between 5,000 and 6,000. These red pandas live among 20 protected areas, including Singalila National Park, Khangchendzonga National Park, and Namdapha National Park.
Nepal is believed to have a very small population of only a couple hundred, which are dispersed throughout several protected areas, including the Annapurna Conservation Area, Sagarmatha National Park, Rara National Park, and Kanchenjunga Conservation Area.
No population estimates are available for Bhutan and Myanmar. In Bhutan, researchers believe the red panda is fairly common between 7,874 feet and 12,139 feet above sea level. The red panda has been found in Myanmar throughout the Kachin Province in Mount Majed, the Emaw Bum region, Hkakaborazi National Park, and the Hponkanrazi Wildlife Sanctuary.