Updated: Jan 23, 2019
The ‘Himalayan Red Panda’, bright eyed and quite literally bushy tailed, a chubby cheeked miniature (by a bear’s standards) bundle covered in lustrous chestnut coloured fur. The red panda’s gait, due to its inward facing front paws is best described as a waddle, which only serves to make the hermetic and crepuscular little darling all the more charming. Unfortunately, these mountain dwelling, tree lounging, bamboo munching, egg pilfering; charismatic bantam weight bears, also known as ‘Fire Foxes’ are now at risk.
Why is the Red Panda at Risk?
Though protected in all countries they are native too, in China the Lilliputian red panda is hunted quite illegally for its pelt, and particularly its long ringed bushy tail, which culturally is seen as a prized gift and talisman for Chinese newlyweds.
The red panda’s numbers in Bhutan have of course been affected by poaching and accidental trapping, but it is mainly deforestation that has endangered the unique little bear. The Himalayan forest is being cut down at a distressing rate, and as the forests become fragmented so too does the dwindling population of red panda’s.
All is not lost however, as for the native people of Bhutan, the sighting of a red panda is considered a very auspicious thing indeed. The people of Sengore and Bumthang, believe the red panda to be a reincarnation of a Buddhist monk, it’s russet coloured fur mirroring the red of a monk’s robe. The people of Thimphu and Paro, believe the sighting of a red panda will bring them better health and greater wealth.
Reasons for Deforestation in Bhutan
Bhutan is still a rural poverty stricken nomadic society, and that societies survival is contingent upon forest resources. Huge swathes of woodland are cut down each year to make way for expanding road networks, or to convert forested areas into farmland where crops can be grown, and cattle can graze. Farmers, cattle herders and their fast increasing populous of bamboo guzzling cattle, are unwittingly causing further degradation to the red panda’s food source and natural environment. Moreover, homes in Bhutan are customarily built with timber, and in a bid to keep the Kingdoms architectural traditions alive, it has been decreed that all homes should continue to be built with timber, again bad news for the red panda’s environs. Furthermore, Bhutanese roofs, baskets, arrows, and fencing are all traditionally made with Bamboo. It seems at every turn the adorable arboreal red panda, of which there are now fewer than 10,000 worldwide, is fighting a losing battle.
What can you do?
You can of course adopt a red panda, a small sum goes along way, and every penny given for adoption goes into bolstering Bhutan’s 'Community Conservation Programs'. You can support Bhutan’s fledgling anti-poaching networks, funds donated to CCP’s are used to educate the native peoples on the red panda, and its importance to Bhutan’s diverse ecosystem. Funds also aid in the removal of barbarous traps and snares, and the hiring of ‘Forest Guardians’, who patrol and protect the red panda and its habitat. Sustainable travel and ‘Eco-tours’, such as the ones Trouvailles specialise in, really do make a difference. The money you spend while hiking, trekking or riding through our beautiful country, creates a sustainable source of income for the native peoples of Bhutan. Your Eco tourism pounds, dollars, pennies, and cents help us take the fight to natural resource consuming big industry, by creating ‘Mom & Pop’ industry in the form of profitable wildlife areas. When wildlife territories become profitable, it follows those territories are no longer cultivated by big business or natives for consumption, giving the adorable arboreal red panda a fighting chance. For more information on how you can help via donations and adoption, or if you wish to be more hands on and book one of Trouvailles Sustainable Travel Tours, please contact 020 3877 0670.
Five Fun Facts about The Red Panda
Did you know that extra digit the red panda boasts, often referred to as its ‘False Thumb’, is not a thumb at all? It’s actually an extension of their wrist bone, the radial sesamoid. This extension means red pandas have an extremely tight grip when moving from tree to tree, making them a contender for king of the swingers.
Watch out now! Yes, these little cuties eat up to 20,000 leaves of bamboo each day, but they also want their pound of flesh. Small birds, rodents, insects, and lizards beware, as the red panda is not a full-time herbivore.
Did you know the red panda is in fact the first panda to be discovered? First found in 1848, some 50 years before the beloved black and white giant panda. Did you know the giant panda isn’t really a panda at all, it’s a bear! Did you know the qinling panda is a subspecies of the giant panda? Meaning it too is not a panda but a bear! So, to clarify, the red panda is a panda, and all the other pandas are bears masquerading as pandas! Phew, glad we sorted that out.
The binomial name for the red panda is ‘Ailurus fulgens’, a mish mash of Greek and Latin. ‘Ailuris’ meaning cat, and ‘fulgens’ meaning shining bright. However, the red panda has many a nickname, such as lesser panda, crimson ngo, nigalya ponya, (eater of bamboo) and the very catchy red-cat-bear.
Did you know the red panda can lower and raise its metabolic rate at will? If temperatures fall below a certain level, the red panda will lower its metabolic rate until it becomes dormant, it does this without lowering its body temperature. It will then raise its metabolic rate from time to time, waking itself up to scavenge for food, making it a very clever little mammal indeed.
For more information on how you can help via donations and adoption, or if you wish to be more hands on and book one of Trouvailles Sustainable Travel Tours, please contact our team on 020 3877 0670 .