Ailurus Fulgens (Red Panda)

The red panda (Ailurus fulgens), also called the lesser panda, the red bear-cat, and the red cat-bear, is a mammal native to the eastern Himalayas and southwestern China. It has reddish-brown fur, a long, shaggy tail, and a waddling gait due to its shorter front legs; it is slightly larger than a domestic cat.
It is arboreal, feeds mainly on bamboo, but also eats eggs, birds, and insects. It is a solitary animal, mainly active from dusk to dawn, and is largely sedentary during the day.

Red pandas are approximately 560 to 625 mm long, with relatively long, furry tails, from 370 to 472 mm long. The tails are marked with about 12 alternating red and buff rings, and are not prehensile. The head is round; the rostrum is shortened; and the ears are large, erect, and pointed. Long, coarse guard hairs cover the body, and the undercoat is soft, dense, and woolly. The body is darker in eastern specimens. The face is predominantly white with reddish-brown "tear" marks under the eyes. The fur on the upper side of its body is reddish-brown, while ventrally it is glossy black. The legs are black and the soles of its feet are covered with dense, white hair. There is no sexual dimorphism in color or size between males and females. Front legs are angled inward, leading to its waddling walk. The feet are plantigrade.

The red panda has a robust skull with a poorly developed zygomatic arch, sagittal crest, and postorbital process. The palatines extend beyond the level of the most posterior molar, the mesopterygoid fossa is constricted anteriorly, and the auditory bullae are small. The post glenoid process is large and anteriorly recurved, and an alisphenoid canal is present. The mandible is robust but relatively short, and the mandibular symphysis is constricted. The coronoid process is strongly hooked posteriorly, and the mandibular condyles are large. Premolar one and molar one and two are wider than they are long and have accessory cusplets. Each upper premolar has more than one cusp, and premolar three has a well developed paracone and hypocone.

Baby red panda twins

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 the results of phylogenetic analysis provide strong support for its taxonomic classification in its own family, Ailuridae, which is part of the superfamily Musteloidea along with the weasel, raccoon and skunk families. Two subspecies are recognized. It is not closely related to the giant panda, which is a basal ursid.

The red panda has been classified as Endangered by the IUCN because its wild population is estimated at less than 10,000 mature individuals and continues to decline due to habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching, and inbreeding depression, although red pandas are protected by national laws in their range countries. Red Panda is listed as Endangered because its population has plausibly declined by 50% over the last three generations (estimated at 18 years) and this decline is projected to continue, and probably intensify, in the next three generations. There is no credible quantification of decline rate from anywhere in the species' range. The overall forest loss rate at appropriate altitudes in the species' range is suspected to be sufficient for Near Threatened status (about 25% in the last three generations), but Red Panda populations are suspected to be declining much faster, reflecting a battery of direct threats, this species' fragmented present range, and poor survival in fragmented areas.

Red Panda diet is 98% bamboo. These plants show mass flowering followed by die off. Red Pandas will not readily find new feeding grounds in a highly fragmented landscape and are exposed to other threats when crossing unsuitable habitat. These bamboos do not easily re-establish after flowering in areas of environmental degradation and deforestation, which are now widespread across the species's range.

Red Pandas are highly susceptible to canine distemper (even developing the disease after vaccination with domestic dog vaccine), which is lethal to them. As more people, particularly herders, encroach Red Panda habitat, contact between domestic dogs (and their excreta) and Red Pandas increases. Unless all dogs (including feral ones) in Red Panda habitat are vaccinated against this disease the chance that it will enter and spread in the wild Red Panda population with catastrophic consequences are high.

Red Panda has specific habitat requirements for forest type, altitude, slope gradient and aspect, proximity to water courses, precipitation and presence of tree stumps. The gentle slopes and rich bamboo understorey of Red Panda habitat make it also a prime choice for herders with their dogs. Cattle also prefer these more gentle slopes, so trample bamboo, which is also collected extensively by herdsmen and used for fodder. In addition tree stumps are often collected by local villagers for firewood.

Hunting for trade seems to be increasing, Red Pandas are starting to enter the pet trade, perhaps partly in response to the increasing number of ‘cute’ images on social media. Deforestation and road building are easing access to Red Panda habitat. There are reports of poachers capturing Red Pandas in Nepal and Myanmar to satisfy the Chinese demand for the species (as wild meat, for medicine and for skins). The smaller population fragments, such as in Nepal, can support little or no off-take.

The human population in the Eastern Himalayas is growing at an average rate of 2.1% (doubling time 33 years). With this growth more people are moving into Red Panda habitat for their livelihoods, thereby exacerbating the above threats. Yonzon and Hunter (1991) showed that Red Panda mortality is high in disturbed areas; in their study area only three of the 12-13 cubs born survived to six months and only five of the nine adults survived the study period. They stated that 57% of these deaths were directly related to human causes. Comparable figures from undisturbed habitat are not available; but annual mortality rates such as these cannot possibly be sustainable.

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