Red panda truths

Nature and Environment

What's in a name?

Red pandas don't share many physical features with their giant monochrome namesakes, and their appearance is more likely to be compared to that of a raccoon or a cat. In fact the first published description of the animal referred to it as "Ailurus fulgens," which translates to something like "red shining cat." Taxonomically, however, they're part of their own unique family: Ailuridae.

Nature and Environment

Which came first, the red or the giant?

French zoologist Frederic Cuvier first described the red panda on record in 1825, almost half a century before the lolloping black-and-white bears were first cataloged. Exactly how the two species came to be called pandas is unclear, but some claims suggest the name is derived from "nigalya ponya," an old Nepalese term for bamboo-eating animal. Figures...

Nature and Environment

Dinner time

...since bamboo is a staple of both the red and the giant pandas' diet. So much so that they have extended wrist bones with thumb-like functions that help them strip the stalks. But the red panda, which has to consume 30 percent of its body weight daily, also eats bugs, fruit, eggs, bark and flowers. Pregnant females sometimes mix it up to include lizards, birds or rodents.

Nature and Environment

Maternal instinct

Red pandas tend to be solitary animals except during the breeding season, which starts in the late fall. After a four-month gestation period, the female typically gives birth to between one and four young — paler versions of herself. During their first days in the nest, the cubs have her undivided attention. At 3 months, they're changing color and beginning to nibble bamboo.

Nature and Environment

Growing up

The young remain with their mother in the nest for the first two and a half months, when she starts introducing them to the outside world and all the freedoms it has to offer. Though independent by the age of 8 months, the cubs don't leave their mother entirely until her next litter is born. Both females and males reach sexual maturity between 18 and 20 months of age.

Nature and Environment

In the tree tops

When not foraging for bamboo, red pandas spend most of their time way above the ground, moving among the trees with agility. They tend to take frequent naps among the branches as a way of conserving energy, but they also breed up high. They're at home in the wooded mountain habitats of Nepal, northern Myanmar and central China.

Nature and Environment

Surviving in the wild

With the number of animals left in the wild believed to be less than 10,000, and some suggestions putting the figure as low as 2,500, red pandas are categorized as endangered on the IUCN Red List. The main threats facing them are a loss of habitat and food sources as a result of deforestation to create space for agriculture and human housing. They are also hunted for their skins.

Nature and Environment

Ripe old age

Efforts have been ongoing for several years to establish conservation areas and projects to protect these raccoon-like creatures with a weakness for bamboo. Those that manage to survive poachers and pressures on the land they inhabit can live for as long as 14 years among the trees of their mountainous homes.

Apart from a weakness for bamboo, endangered red pandas don't have a whole lot in common with their black-and-white namesakes. They might look just as cute and cuddly, but are red pandas really pandas?