By Suri Zheng
Red pandas, or Ailurus fulgens are categorized as endangered. Less than 10,000 of the “cutest animals on the planet” remain, and the number is drastically decreasing.
Red pandas are native to South Western Asia, particularly China, India, Bhutan, Myanmar, and Nepal. But surprisingly, some fossils of red pandas have been found in North America, dating back to 5 million years.
Red pandas are sometimes known as “lesser pandas” as the “panda” in their name can associate them with giant pandas. Despite sharing a common name, red pandas are more related to raccoons, cats, and bears than giant pandas. They were given the panda name because of similarities that giant pandas and red pandas share, for example, eating bamboo. Red pandas are carnivores, meaning they snack on mostly plants. Their main diet is mostly bamboo, but they sometimes eat bird eggs, lizards, fruit, and insects.
Red pandas are slightly larger than domestic cats, hence the name Ailurus, which means cat in Ancient Greek. They are covered in a thick layer of red-brown fur, with black bellies and limbs, white facial markings, and 6 digits on their paws. Their average life span is 23 years. These animals may look cute, but they are quite fierce. They are known to be moody, shy, and aggressive. They are solitary nocturnal animals, and in the daytime, you will find them sleeping or resting on trees, depending on the weather.
Research has determined that the population of red pandas has decreased by 40% over the past 2 decades. The main cause? Habitat loss, hunting, and poaching. 50% of the red pandas’ habitat is in the Eastern Himalayas and much of that range is being cleared, causing habitat fragmentation, and leaving little space for red pandas to survive. To mitigate it, scientists are keeping red pandas in zoos worldwide hoping to study and increase the population and bring them off the IUCN Red List. Which can show a promising future for these bear-like animals.