So it is time for another installment of “When Worlds Collide” and for this episode I have chosen for an animal that has a very famous cousin but is itself fairly unknown. The Red Panda
Some numbers and facts
The red panda (Ailurus fulgens), also called lesser panda and red cat-bear, is a small arboreal mammal native to the eastern Himalayasand southwestern China that has been classified as Vulnerable by IUCN as its wild population is estimated at less than 10,000 mature individuals. The population continues to decline and is threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching, and inbreeding depression, although red pandas are protected by national laws in their range countries.
The red panda is slightly larger than a domestic cat. It has reddish-brown fur, a long, shaggy tail, and a waddling gait due to its shorter front legs. It feeds mainly on bamboo, but is omnivorous and also eats eggs, birds, insects, and small mammals. It is a solitary animal, mainly active from dusk to dawn, and is largely sedentary during the day.
The red panda is the only living species of the genus Ailurus and the family Ailuridae. It has been previously placed in the raccoon and bear families, but results of phylogenetic research indicate strong support for its taxonomic classification in its own family Ailuridae, which along with the weasel family is part of the superfamily Musteloidea. Two subspecies are recognized. It is not closely related to the giant panda.
Distribution and habitat
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 the Qinling Mountains of the Shaanxi Province in China. Its range includes southern Tibet, Sikkim and Assam in India, Bhutan, the northern mountains of Burma, and in southwestern China, in the Hengduan Mountains of Sichuan and the Gongshan Mountains in Yunnan. It may also live in southwest Tibet and northern Arunachal Pradesh, 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 northeastern India.
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). The species’ westernmost limit is in Rara National Park located farther west of the Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve. Their presence was confirmed in 2008.
The red panda lives between 2,200 and 4,800 meters (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.
Red panda sleeping
Biology and behavior
The red panda is territorial; it is solitary except during mating season. The species is generally quiet except for some twittering, tweeting, and whistling communication sounds. It has been reported to be both nocturnal and crepuscular, sleeping on tree branches or in tree hollows during the day and increasing its activity in the late afternoon and early evening hours. It sleeps stretched out on a branch with legs dangling when it is hot, and curled up with its tail over the face when it is cold. This panda is very heat sensitive, with an optimal “well-being” temperature between 17 and 25 °C (63 and 77 °F), and cannot tolerate temperatures over 25 °C (77 °F).
Red panda standing
Shortly after waking, red pandas clean their fur like a cat, licking their front paws and then rubbing their backs, stomachs and sides. They also rub their backs and bellies along the sides of trees or rocks. Then they patrol their territories, marking with urine and a weak musk-smelling secretion from their anal glands. They search for food running along the ground or through the trees. Red pandas may alternately use their forepaws to bring food to their mouths or place food directly into their mouths.
Predators of the red panda include the snow leopard, martens (Mustelidae), and humans. If they feel threatened or sense danger, they may try to escape by climbing a rock column or tree. If they can no longer flee, they stand on their hind legs to make themselves appear larger and use the sharp claws on their front paws to defend themselves. The red panda Futa became a visitor attraction in Japan for his ability to stand upright for ten seconds at a time.
red panda twittering
Red pandas are excellent climbers, and forage largely in trees. They eat mostly bamboo, and may eat small mammals, birds, eggs, flowers and berries. In captivity, they were observed to eat birds, flowers, maple and mulberry leaves, and bark and fruits of maple, beech and mulberry.
Like the giant panda, they cannot digest cellulose, so they must consume a large volume of bamboo to survive. Their diets consist of about two-thirds bamboo, but they also eat mushrooms, roots, acorns, lichen and grasses. Occasionally, they supplement their diets with fish and insects. They do little more than eat and sleep due to their low-calorie diets.
Bamboo shoots are more easily digested than leaves, exhibiting the highest digestibility in summer and autumn, intermediate digestibility in the spring, and lowest digestibility in the winter. These variations correlate with the nutrient contents in the bamboo. Red pandas process bamboo poorly, especially the cellulose and cell wall components. This implies microbial digestion plays only a minor role in their digestive strategy. To survive on this poor-quality diet, they have to eat the high-quality sections of the bamboo plant, such as the tender leaves and shoots, in large quantities, over 1.5 kg (3.3 lb) of fresh leaves and 4 kg (8.8 lb) of fresh shoots daily. This food passes through the digestive tract fairly rapidly (about 2–4 hr) so as to maximize nutrient intake. Red pandas can taste artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, the only non primate known to do so.
One of the organizations there to protect the Red Panda is of course the WWF.
Till the next WWC, thanks for reading, don’t be shy and comment