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Action Plan for Red Panda Preservation should be effective in the real sense

The Nepal Weekly
September 21, 2021

International Red Panda Day 2021

Every year, on the third Saturday of September, the International Red Panda Day is observed. International Red Panda Day seeks to inspire people to learn more about these lovely species and to contribute to the conservation of the habitat in which they reside. This year, the day was observed on September 18.

Red Pandas are indigenous to the Eastern Himalayas, where they may still be spotted wandering. These mammals spend most of their life on trees, even sleeping on them. They are primarily nocturnal foragers, although they also forage during the gloaming hours between twilight and morning.

They are smaller than many people believe, owing to their association with the giant panda. In reality, these little critters grow to be roughly the size of a house cat, while their long, bushy tails add an extra 18 inches to their length.

Red Pandas are mostly solitary creatures who like to live and dwell alone. They do not normally come together for social reasons and only join together in couples during mating seasons when they communicate through body language such as head bobbing or tail arching.

These fluffy animals are not bears in the traditional sense. They are the sole members of their taxonomic family, the Ailuridae, who are still alive. This implies they are not related to Giant Pandas, yet they do share certain characteristics with them, such as fondness for bamboo. They resemble racoons rather than bears.

The Red Panda has long, soft, reddish-brown fur on the upper parts, blackish fur on the lower parts, and a light face with tear markings and white badges similar to those of a raccoon, but each individual can have distinctive markings. Its skull is roundish with medium-sized upright ears, its nose is black, and its eyes are blackish. Its teeth are robust. Its long, bushy tail with six alternating transverse ochre rings provides balance and excellent camouflage in a habitat with moss-and lichen-covered trees. The legs are black and short with thick fur on the soles of the paws. This fur serves as thermal insulation on snow-covered or icy surfaces and conceals scent glands, which are also present on the anus.

Snow is a favourite to Red Pandas. In fact, due to the contrast between their fur colour and the snow, a wintery day may be one of the greatest times to see a Red Panda in its zoo’s outdoor habitat. Also, their lifespan is just 23 years and after age 12, the female red pandas don’t usually breed.

From the temperate Himalayan forests of western Nepal to the high mountain slopes of south-western China, the Red Panda (Ailurusfulgens), like the giant panda, is a mostly herbivorous mammal that feeds mainly on bamboo. But that is where the similarities with its larger and more recognizable black and white distant cousin seem to end.

Red Pandas look more like raccoons and are slightly larger than a domestic house cat (they even have feline-like whiskers), growing to about 50-63cm in length and weighing up to 6kg. They are skillful climbers that, when not foraging on the ground, spend most of their time in the trees curled up with their long, bushy tails wrapped around their heads. A thick reddish-brown fur offers additional protection from the cold, often harsh, mountain weather.

The red panda is endemic to the temperate forests of the Himalayas, and ranges from the foothills of western Nepal to China in the east. Its easternmost limit is theQinling Mountains of the Shaanxi Province in China. Its range includessouthern Tibet, Sikkim and Assam in India, Bhutan, the northern mountains of Myanmar, and in south-western China, in theHengduan Mountains of Sichuan and the Gongshan Mountains in Yunnan. It may also live in south-west Tibet and northern Arunanchal Pradesh of India, but this has not been documented. Locations with the highest density of red pandas include an area in the Himalayas that has been proposed as having been a refuge for a variety of endemic species in the Pleistocene. The distribution range of the red panda should be considered disjunct, rather than continuous. A disjunct population inhabits the Meghalaya Plateau of north-eastern India.

The Red Pandas live between 2,200 and 4,800 m (7,200 and 15,700 ft) altitude, inhabiting areas of moderate temperature between 10 and 25 °C (50 and 77 °F) with little annual change. It prefers mountainous mixed deciduous and conifer forests, especially with old trees and dense understories of bamboo.

During a survey in the 1970s, signs of red pandas were found in Nepal’s Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve. Their presence was confirmed in spring 2007 when four red pandas were sighted at elevations ranging from 3,220 to 3,610 m (10,560 to 11,840 ft). Its westernmost distribution is inRara National Park. In 2018, red pandas were sighted at elevations of 3,150–3,650 m (10,330–11,980 ft) in Nepal’s Lamjung District.

The red panda population in Sichuan Province is larger and more stable than the Yunnan population, suggesting a southward expansion from Sichuan into Yunnan in the Holocene. The red panda has become extirpated from the Chinese provinces of Guizhou, Gansu, Shaanxi, and Qinghai.

An increase in human population, particularly in China and Nepal, has seen the red panda’s bamboo forest homes cut down and cleared for timber, fuel and agriculture land, pushing them to more remote, fragmented – and often unprotected – mountain areas.

Although protected internationally and in Nepal, the red panda remains highly endangered. While some pandas are found in Nepal’s Langtang National Park, Annapurna Conservation Area, Sagarmatha National Park, Manaslu Conservation Area, Makalu Barun National Park andKangchenjunga Conservation Area, over 75% of potential red panda habitat falls outside protected areas.

Protecting the Red Panda and its fragile environment is vital to preserving the region’s natural heritage and global biodiversity.

Conservation work by WWF and its partners is currently underway in the Himalayan landscape, which encompasses more than two-thirds of Nepal’s remaining Red Panda habitat. For WWF and the government of Nepal, Red Panda conservation is a priority.

Protecting the endangered species includes conducting in-depth field studies on Red Panda ecology, behaviour, habitat and distribution range to improve effective conservation, identifying potential Red Panda habitats suitable for protection, developing a broad-based awareness programme on red pandas to make local communities more aware about the importance of the species within the mountain ecosystem.

Red Pandais listed as Endangered in IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and included in Appendix I of CITES. National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 2029 B.S. (1973) has categorized Red Panda as protected species of Nepal. Despite being a protected species, intensified anthropogenic activities, such as livestock grazing, illegal trade, poaching and habitat loss and degradation are inducing threats for their long term survival. Red Panda Conservation Action Plan for Nepal (2019-2023) has been prepared with an aim to protect and manage red panda populations in Nepal which will be achieved by holistic approach of conservation including research, monitoring, awareness building, habitat improvement and threat management. Involvements of local communities have been well prioritized in this action plan. (The Nepal Weekly)