Kristen Howe is an EdZoo Volunteer at her zoo. She educates guests about the red pandas, her favorite animals at the zoo.
Sending Out an SOS: Save Our Species
For the past 50 years, the Red Panda population has been rapidly declining, with as much as a 40% decrease—that’s between 2,500 and 10,000 individuals.
In a comprehensive genetic study in 2020, researchers found that the Chinese Red Pandas and the Himalayan Red Pandas were two distinct species. These Red Pandas are from the Ailuridae family and are one of a kind: a cross between a bear and a raccoon with a false extra thumb—they also rarely eat meat.
The Red Pandas are the original pandas, a living relic of the past. They’re only found in the high-altitude temperate forests in Southeast Asia, from the Himalayas to South China through Nepal, Bhutan, India, Tibet, and Burma. Their diet consists mainly of bamboo with small bugs, fruits, and eggs. Their red fur helps camouflage them from their natural predators. Their furry feet keep them warm and help them grip slippery, mossy branches. Their fluffy tail helps them keep balance when climbing through trees and is also used as a blanket in the winter to warm them. These solitary animals spend 55% of their time sleeping and are most active in the early mornings to late afternoons.
Since 1995, Red Pandas have been listed in the Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species in Flora and Fauna’s Appendix I. In 2008, the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) placed them on their Endangered Species Red List. If we don’t do our part to save and protect Red Pandas, we won’t be able to study their unique natural heritage and observe their part in global biodiversity unfold in the future.
Causes for Concern
1. Habitat Loss and Fragmentation
Loss of habitat and fragmentation are threatening the Red Panda’s survival in its homelands. Bamboo is 95% of the main source of the Red Panda’s diet. And when the forests keep shrinking in size, it makes it harder for them to find bamboo when people move in to take over their land. Due to the need for housing and commercial development for farming and mining, forests have been cleared, roads built, and livestock has been brought to pasture in woods, where they compete with the Red Pandas for bamboo.
2. Exploitation of Forest Resources
This causes Red Panda habitats to become degraded by deforestation, commercial logging, and the loss of liveable land. It all stems from development projects, mining and roads, electric transmission lines, hydro-projects, settlements, agricultural conversions, and anthropogenic forest fires.
3. Climate Change
Natural disasters like forest fires, floods, heavy snow, landslides, and cyclones, have all devastated the Red Panda’s wooded homes. Diseased bamboo shoots, invasive plant species, and issues with bamboo flowering also affected their habitats. Certain bamboo species are impacted by forest fires and other environmental issues, like the reduction of an overhead cover canopy when their homes are diminished (when bamboo seedlings don’t survive, and thus bamboo doesn’t thrive).
4. Hunting and Poaching
Hunting and poaching have always threatened the Red Panda’s life. They’re mistakenly caught in traps that were intended for other animals like deer and wild pigs. Due to an increase in illegal smuggling, poachers kill them for their meat and use their pelt for fur hats. Other hunts have sold them as illegal pets. When people bring their livestock into their habitats, they protect them with free-roaming dogs. They cause wildlife to permanently or temporarily move away from the area. If the dogs aren’t vaccinated, the pandas will get sick with canine distemper virus and die from fatal diseases like Rabies or simply be attacked and killed.
Ways You Can Help
Here's a list of eight concrete ways you can take action and help save the Red Panda from extinction.
1. Raise Awareness
Raise awareness bout the illegal Red Panda trade by taking action and signing up to pledge at the World Wildlife Fund to help protect the planet against climate change. Join non-profit organizations like the Red Panda Network (RPN) and the World Wildlife Fund in the fight to work against the illegal red panda trade.
2. Adopting a Plush Red Panda
This is another great way to show your support for this worthwhile cause. You would also receive a certificate for this symbolic adoption. It would go directly to supporting the pandas and makes a terrific gift.
3. Donating and Fundraising
Your money will help support the conservation efforts of the RPN and other organizations. You can also virtually adopt a Red Panda with your donation.
4. Sponsor a Forest Guardian
These people are crucial in Nepal and other countries, as they actively monitor and protect the Red Panda habitat and educate their local communities.
5. Ecotourism Trips
You can take one of these trips to experience Red Pandas in their habitat and support the rural communities committed to protecting the forests.
6. Visit Websites
Take a look at websites like the Red Panda Network and the World Wildlife Fund to learn more about Red Pandas and how you can help.
7. Become an Advocate as a Red Panda Ranger
Teach others about the unique traits of Red Pandas and how they’re an important reflection of a diverse ecosystem.
8. Spread the Word
Participate in International Red Panda Day on September 16th, 2023. Ask your zoo and others to participate in International Red Panda Day. Host a Red Panda Party or create a school class project with an auction (make or collect items, sell at the event). Let the Red Panda Network know what you did, whom you reached, how much money you raised, and how much fun you had.
If we all come together to support a good cause, we can help save the Red Pandas from becoming extinct in the future and prevent climate change. If we act proactively by joining the fight, we can all do our part worldwide. The Red Pandas are amazing and unique creatures to see at your local zoos to watch and remember.
Sources and Further Reading
- Red Panda Facts | Red Panda Network
- Population & Conservation Status – Red Pandas Fact Sheet
These pages are part of the San Diego Zoo Global Library website. Our website provides access to zoo, animal, plant, conservation, and veterinary information resources.
- Red Panda | Species | WWF
Red Pandas are often killed when they get caught in traps meant for other animals, and are also poached for their distinctive pelts. Learn about the ways WWF works to protect endangered species, including the Red Panda.
- Why Red Pandas Are Endangered and What We Can Do | Treehugger.com
Red Pandas are endangered with their numbers decreasing. The WWF estimates there are fewer than 10,000 left in the wild.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Kristen Howe