RED PANDA – Ailurus fulgens


Red panda facts: The red panda has a body length of 20 to 24 inches (50 to 60 centimeters) and a tail length of 12 to 20 inches (30 to 50 centimeters). Its light weight of 6.5 to 11 pounds (3 to 5 kilograms) allows for climbing higher, thinner tree branches, with the long, bushy tail helping keep its balance. The tail has alternating reddish brown and tan rings. Reddish brown waterproof guard hairs protect a dense woolly underfur. Brownish black fur covers the back of the ears, belly, throat, and legs. Large pointed ears fringed with white sit atop a round head. White fur covers the cheeks and the areas over the small eyes and around the black nose. Large reddish brown tear marks run from the eyes to the corners of the mouth.

Each front paw has an extended wrist bone, used for grasping bamboo, its main food. Powerful jaw muscles and broad teeth are adapted for chewing the tough bamboo. Although flat-footed, the panda is considered semiplantigrade because the heels of its back feet do not touch the ground. Thick white fur keeps the soles warm in cold weather. The sharp claws can be pulled back like a cat’s to keep from getting dull when walking on hard surfaces.

Red panda habitat: The red panda occurs in Assam, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sikkim, and Tibet.

What does red panda eat: The red panda is a folivore, eating almost exclusively the leaves of bamboo. On rare occasions, it eats fruits, berries, acorns, other grasses, as well as bamboo rats, insects, young birds, and bird eggs. It spends up to thirteen hours consuming 2 to 3 pounds (1 to 1.4 kilograms) of leaves. The panda has a carnivore’s digestive system that is not adapted for processing plant fiber. Since it gets very little nutrients from the small amount of digested food, it has to eat plenty of leaves.

Behavior and reproduction: Red pandas sleep and rest in tree branches. They are active at night, daybreak, and dusk, mostly foraging for bamboo. Although loners, they communicate through vocalizations and body language. They scent mark territorial boundaries with anal secretions, urine, and feces. Sweat glands between the paw pads secrete fluid that helps pandas find their way around their home range. While territorial, red pandas are not aggressive. They warn each other off by bobbing their heads, raising the forepaws, and hissing.

Pandas pair off to mate, separating soon after. Due to delayed implantation during which the fertilized egg does not attach to the uterus for up to three months, newborns weigh just about 4.4 ounces (about 120 grams). The litter may consist of one to four cubs, but typically just two. To produce enough milk, the mother increases her bamboo intake threefold. The cubs stay with her for about a year or until she is ready to breed again.

Red pandas and people: Red pandas are popular zoo animals. Some Asian cultures make caps from the fur, believed to bring good fortune, especially to newlyweds.

Conservation status: The IUCN lists the red panda as Endangered due to habitat loss and fragmentation resulting from clearing forests for agriculture, timber, and fuel. Poachers (illegal hunters) harvest fur for trade.