Saturday 21 September 2013 marks the annual International Red Panda Day where communities across the world are encouraged to learn about these curious creatures and work together to protect their habitats.
To be honest I only learned of the existence of red pandas as a separate species, after a visit to Ocean Park in Hong Kong who have a dedicated Red Panda Conservation area, alongside the better known Giant Panda enclosures. As a Giant Panda is the symbol of the WWF, they take the lion’s share of the attention I guess!
These cute, almost cat-like creatures are scientifically known as 'Ailurus fulgens' but more commonly known as either the lesser panda or firefox. Although its shares a name with the Giant Panda it’s not closely related at all. It does have a similarity in its diet; the red panda consumes bamboo although they are also carnivorous, consuming insects, birds and even other small mammals. The red panda is a little bigger than a domestic cat at around 50-63cm in the body. They are distinguished by a fat fox-like red tail which can grow as long as 47cm. Red pandas live to up to 14 years old and adults typically weigh around 4-6kg. The natural habitat of the red panda is temperate Asian forests which have significant bamboo growth, so countries such as China, Nepal, Bhutan, India, Myanmar and Laos are thought to have red panda colonies.
Crucially, International Red Panda Day each year aims to raise awareness of these creatures which are listed as ‘vulnerable’ status, as far as conservation status goes. Hunting and deforestation continue to threaten red panda populations. Each third Saturday in September is dedicated to events and activities devoted to the red panda. The official Red Panda Network site has more details on how to get involved, events around the world and ways you can help.
The network has created the very first monitoring community ‘Project Punde Kundo’ in eastern Nepal, where villagers monitor their local red panda population. Special rangers patrol the forests and also educate the wider community to preserve the forests and red panda population.
And if you want to get up close to a real red panda, the official support site has a searchable map to locate the nearest red pandas to you, which could make for a great day out!
Image credit; Greg Hume