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Red Panda[1]
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Ailuridae
Genus: Ailurus
F. Cuvier, 1825
Species: A. fulgens
Binomial name
Ailurus fulgens
F. Cuvier, 1825

A. f. fulgens
A. f. styani[3]

Red Panda range

A. ochraceus Hodgson, 1847

The Red Panda (taxonomic name: Ailurus fulgens, "shining cat") is a small arboreal mammal and the only species of the genus Ailurus. 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 eats mainly bamboo, but is omnivorous and may also eat eggs, birds, insects, and small mammals. It is a solitary animal, mainly active from dusk to dawn, and is largely sedentary during the day.

Endemic to the temperate forests of the Himalayas, the Red Panda ranges from Nepal in the west to China in the east. It is also found in northern India, Bhutan and northern Myanmar.[4] Accurate population figures in the wild are difficult to find, with estimates ranging from 11,000 to 20,000 worldwide. Although it is protected by law in all countries where it lives, its numbers in the wild continue to decline mainly due to habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching, and inbreeding depression.[2]

The Red Panda is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN red list (2009.01), and is listed in CITES appendix I. It has been previously classified in the families Procyonidae (raccoon) and Ursidae (bears), but recent research has placed it in its own family Ailuridae, in superfamily Musteloidea along with Mustelidae, Procyonidae, and Mephitidae.[5] Two subspecies are recognized.

The Red Panda is quite adaptable to living in captivity and is common in zoos worldwide. As of 2006 the international studbook listed more than 800 individuals in zoos and parks around the world.



At Rotterdam Zoo, Netherlands

The first known written record of the red panda occurs in a 13th-century Chou dynasty scroll.[6] However, Major General Thomas Hardwicke’s 1821 presentation of a paper titled "Description of a New Class of Mammalia, from the Himalaya Chain of Hills Between Nepaul [sic] and the Snowy Mountains" at the Linnean Society in London is usually regarded as the moment the Red Panda became a bona fide species in Western science. Hardwicke called the animal "Wha" because "It is frequently discovered by its loud cry or call, resembling the word ‘Wha,’ often repeating the same..."[7] Unfortunately for Hardwicke, his paper was not published until 1827, by which time Frédéric Cuvier had published using the common name "Panda" and the taxonomic name Ailurus Fulgens ("shining cat"). Hardwicke's originally proposed taxonomic name was removed from the 1827 publication of his paper (with his permission), and naming credit is now given to Cuvier.[7]

The first published use of the common name "Panda" in reference to this species was in 1824 by Frédéric Cuvier in "Histoire Naturelle des Mammifères."[8][9] There is no conclusive source for the origin of the anglicized word "panda." Nigalya ponya, nyala ponga, and poonya are often mentioned as possible sources, and are said to mean eater of bamboo, or possibly have a meaning associated with the specialized wrist bone of the Panda. The words are usually claimed to be from Nepali. However, none of these words appear in Nepali-English dictionaries,[10][11] and there are no other primary sources to substantiate these conflicting claims.

In English, the Red Panda is also called Lesser Panda,[2] though due to the pejorative implications of this name, "Red" is generally preferred. Many other languages use Red Panda, or variations of shining/gold or lesser/small in their names for this species. For instance, червена панда in Bulgarian, panda roux in French, and panda rojo in Spanish all mean Red Panda. Since at least as far back as 1855, one of its French names has been panda éclatant (shining panda),[12] and in Finnish it is kultapanda ("gold panda"). petit panda ("small panda") in French, 애기판다 ("baby panda") in Korean, レッサーパンダ ressä panda (transliteration of English "lesser panda") in Japanese, kleine panda ("lesser panda") in Dutch, and panda menor ("lesser panda") in Spanish are all variations on Lesser Panda.

Another name used in English is Firefox. It is said that this is the literal translation of the Chinese name for the Red Panda.[13][14][15][16] However, according to Chinese dictionaries the Panda is 熊猫 (xióng māo, or "bear cat"),[17] the Red Panda is 小熊猫 (xiǎo xióng māo, "small bear cat)[18] or 红熊猫 (hóng xióng māo, "red bear cat"),[19] and "firefox" (火狐, or huǒ hú) refers to the Firefox browser.[19][20][21]

Other local names attributed to this species include Fire Cat,[6] Bright Panda, Common Panda, Sankam, Thokya, Wokdonka, Woker and Ye.[22]


The taxonomic classification of the Red Panda has been controversial since it was discovered. French zoologist Frédéric Cuvier initially described the Red Panda in 1825, and classified it as a close relative of the Raccoon (Procyonidae), even though he gave it the genus name Ailurus "cat" based on superficial similarities with domestic cats. The specific epithet is the Latin adjective fulgens "shining".[23] At various times it has been placed in Procyonidae, Ursidae, with Ailuropoda in Ailuridae, and in its own family, Ailuridae. This uncertainty comes from difficulty determining whether certain characteristics of Ailurus are phylogenetically conservative or are derived and convergent with species of similar ecological habits.[24]

Evidence based on the fossil record, serology, karyology, behavior, anatomy, and reproduction reflect closer affinities with Procyonidae than Ursidae. However, ecological and foraging specializations and distinct geographical distribution in relation to modern Procyonids support classification in a separate family (Ailuridae).[1][24][25]

Recent molecular-systematic DNA research also places the Red Panda into its own family Ailuridae, which is in turn part of the broad superfamily Musteloidea that also includes the Mephitidae (skunks), Procyonidae (raccoons), and Mustelidae (weasels) families.[5][25][26]

It is not a bear, nor closely related to the giant panda, nor a raccoon, nor a lineage of uncertain affinities. Rather it is a basal lineage of musteloid, with a long history of independence from its closest relatives (skunks, raccoons, and otters/weasels/badgers).
—Flynn et al., Whence the Red Panda,[5] p197


There are two extant subspecies of Red Panda. The Western Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens fulgens F. G. Cuvier, 1825) lives in the western part of its range (Nepal, Assam, Sikkim and Bhutan), and the somewhat larger Styan's Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens styani Thomas, 1902[27]) lives in the east-northeastern part of its range (southern China and northern Myanmar).[28] The Styan's Red Panda is supposedly larger and darker in color than its Western cousin, though there is considerable variation in both subspecies, and some individuals may be brown or yellowish brown rather than red.[29]

The name Ailurus fulgens refulgens is sometimes incorrectly used for A. f. styani. This stems from a lapsus made by Milne-Edwards in his 1874 paper "Recherches pour servir à l'histoire naturelle des mammifères comprenant des considérations sur la classification de ces animaux" [30], making A. f. refulgens a nomen nudum.[28][31] The most recent edition of "Mammal Species of the World" still shows the subspecies as A. f. refulgens.[1] However this has been corrected in more recent works including "A guide to the mammals of China"[32] and "Handbook of the Mammals of the World, Volume 1: Carnivores."[3]

Evolutionary history

The Red Panda is considered a living fossil and only distantly related to the Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca). Their common ancestor can be traced back to the Early Tertiary Period tens of millions of years ago, with a wide distribution across Eurasia. Fossils of the Red Panda have been unearthed from China in the east to Britain (Parailurus anglicus) in the west.[33] Fossils considered to be a new genus and species of the Red Panda (Pristinailurus bristoli) from the Miocene Epoch were recently discovered in North America[34] in Tennessee[33] and Washington.[35]

Distribution and habitat

A Red Panda in Darjeeling, India

The Red Panda is found mainly in temperate forests in the Himalayas, especially in the foothills of western Nepal, southern Tibet, Sikkim, Assam and Bhutan, in the northern mountains of Myanmar, and in southern China in the provinces of Sichuan (Hengduan Mountains) and Yunnan (Gongshan Mountains). It may also live in southwest Tibet and northern Arunachal Pradesh, but this has not been documented.[24] The Red Panda has become extinct in the Chinese provinces of Guizhou, Gansu, Shaanxi and Qinghai.[36]

The effective population size of the Sichuan population is larger and more stable than that of the Yunnan population, implying a southward expansion from Sichuan to Yunnan.[37] 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.[24]

Distribution of the Red Panda is disjointed. The Brahmaputra river, where it makes a curve around the eastern end of the Himalayas, is often considered the natural division between the two subspecies, although some authors suggest that A. f fulgens extends farther eastward, into China.

The Red Panda lives between 2,200 and 4,800 meters (7,200 and 15,700 ft) altitude,[24] inhabiting areas of moderate temperature (between 10 and 25 degrees Celsius / 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.[29]

Biology and behavior

Red Panda in a tree

Physical characteristics

The head and body of the Red Panda is 56 to 63 cm (22 to 25 in) long, and their tail is 37 to 47 cm (15 to 19 in) long. Males weigh 3.7 to 6.2 kg (8 to 14 lb) and females weigh 4.2 to 6.0 kg (9 to 13 lb).[24] It has long, soft reddish-brown fur on its upper parts, blackish fur on its lower parts, and a light face with tear markings and robust cranial-dental features. The light face has white badges similar to those of a raccoon, but each individual can have distinctive markings. Its roundish head has medium-sized upright ears, a black nose, and very dark eyes: almost pitch black. Its long bushy tail with six alternating yellowish red transverse ochre rings provides balance and excellent camouflage against its habitat of moss- and lichen-covered trees. The legs are black and short with thick fur on the soles of the paws. This fur serves as thermal insulation on snow-covered or ice surfaces and conceals scent glands which are also present on the anus.[31]

The Red Panda is specialized as a bamboo feeder with strong, curved and sharp semi-retractile claws standing inward for grasping of narrow tree branches, leaves and fruit. Like the Giant Panda, it has a “false thumb” that is an extension of the wrist bone.

A Red Panda lies sleeping on a branch high in a tree, with tail stretched out behind and legs dangling on each side of the branch
Red Panda sleeping


Red panda twittering.ogg
Sounds of Red Panda chirping

The Red Panda has been reported to be both nocturnal (most active at night) and crepuscular (most active at dawn and dusk),[24] sleeping on tree branches or in tree hollows during the day and increasing its activity only 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 its face when it is cold.[24] It 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, the Red Panda cleans its fur like a cat, licking its front paws and then rubbing its back, stomach and sides. It also rubs its back and belly along the sides of trees or rocks. Then it patrols its territory, marking it with a weak musk-smelling secretion from its anal gland and with its urine. It searches for food at night, running along the ground or through the trees. It uses its front paws to place the food into its mouth, and drinks by plunging a paw into the water and then licking the paw.[24]

The Red Panda is territorial. Adults are solitary except during mating season. It is generally quiet except for some twittering and whistling communication sounds. Predators of the Red Panda include the snow leopard (Uncia uncia), martens (Mustelidae), and people.

If a Red Panda feels threatened or senses danger, it may try to escape by climbing a rock column or tree. If it can no longer flee, it stands on its hind legs to make itself appear larger and uses the sharp claws on its front paws to defend itself.

Red Pandas eating bamboo


The Red Panda eats mostly bamboo. Like the Giant Panda, it cannot digest cellulose, so it must consume a large volume of bamboo to survive. Its diet consists of about two-thirds bamboo, but it also eats berries, fruit, mushrooms, roots, acorns, lichen, and grasses. It occasionally supplements its diet with young birds, fish, eggs, small rodents, and insects. In captivity it readily eats meat. The Red Panda is an excellent climber, and forages largely in trees. The Red Panda does little more than eat and sleep due to its low-calorie diet.

Red Panda gnawing on an exfoliated bamboo bush

Bamboo shoots are more easily digested than leaves. They exhibit the highest digestibility in the summer and autumn, intermediate digestibility in the spring, and lowest digestibility in the winter. These variations correlate with the nutrient contents in the bamboo. The Red Panda processes bamboo poorly, especially the cellulose and cell wall components. This implies that microbial digestion plays only a minor role in its digestive strategy. In order to survive on this poor-quality diet, the Red Panda has to eat the high-quality sections of the bamboo plant such as the tender leaves and shoots in large quantities (over 1.5 kilograms / 3.3 pounds of fresh leaves and 4 kilograms / 8.8 pounds of fresh shoots daily). This food passes through the digestive tract fairly rapidly (~2–4 hours) so as to maximize nutrient intake.[38] The Red Panda can taste artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, the only known non-primate to be able to do so.[39]

Red Panda cubs playing


Red Panda adults rarely interact in the wild except to mate. Both sexes may mate with more than one partner during the mating season (mid-January to early March).[40] A few days before the birth, the female begins to collect material, such as brushwood, grass, and leaves, to use for the nest. The nest is normally located in a hollow tree or a rock crevice.[24] After a gestation period of 112 to 158 days, the female gives birth (mid-June to late July) to between one and four blind cubs weighing 110 to 130 grams (3.9 to 4.6 oz) each.

After the birth, the mother cleans the cubs and can then recognize each by its smell. At first, she spends 60% to 90% of her time with the cubs. After the first week, the mother starts spending more time outside the nest, returning every few hours to nurse and groom the cubs. She moves the young frequently among several nests, all of which she keeps clean. The cubs start to open their eyes when they are about 18 days old. By about 90 days they have achieved full adult fur and coloring, and begin to venture out of the nest. They also start eating solid foods at this point, weaning at around 6–8 months of age.[24] The cubs stay with their mother until the next litter is born the following summer.

The males rarely help raise the young, and only if they live in pairs or in small groups. The Red Panda is able to reproduce from around 18 months of age, and is fully mature at 2–3 years. The average lifespan is 8–10 years, but individuals have been known to reach 15 years.


The primary threats to Red Pandas are direct harvest from the wild (live or dead), competition from domestic livestock resulting in habitat degradation, and deforestation resulting in habitat loss or fragmentation. The relative importance of these factors is different in each region, and is not well understood.[29] For instance, in India the biggest threat seems to be habitat loss followed by poaching, while in China the biggest threat seems to be hunting and poaching.[2] A 40% decrease in Red Panda populations has been reported in China over the last 50 years, and populations in western/Himalayan areas are considered to be lower.[36]

Deforestation can inhibit the spread of Red Pandas and exacerbate the natural population subdivision by topography and ecology, leading to severe fragmentation of the remaining wild population. For example, less than 40 animals in 4 separate groups share resources of a preserve in Nepal with humans (only 6% of its 1710 km² is preferred Red Panda habitat). Although direct competition for food with domestic livestock is not significant, livestock can depress bamboo growth by trampling.[41] Small groups of animals with little opportunity for exchange between them face the risk of inbreeding, decreased genetic diversity, and even extinction. In addition, clearcutting for firewood or agriculture, including hillside terracing, removes old trees that provide maternal dens and decreases the ability of some species of bamboo to regenerate.[29]

In Southwest China, Red Pandas are hunted for their fur, especially for the highly-valued bushy tails from which hats are produced. In these areas, the fur is often used for local cultural ceremonies, and in weddings the bridegroom traditionally carries the hide. The "good-luck charm" Red Panda-tail hats are also used by Chinese newlyweds.[36]

Until recently, Red Pandas were captured and sold to zoos. Glatston reports that "in International Zoo News, Munro (1969) reported he personally had handled 350 Red Pandas in seventeen years."[42] Thanks to CITES this number has decreased substantially in recent years, but poaching continues and Red Pandas are often sold to private collectors at exorbitant prices. In some parts of Nepal and India, Red Pandas are kept as pets.[43]

The Red Panda has a naturally low birth rate (usually single or twin births per year), and a high death rate in the wild.


The Red Panda has been confused with other animals

The Red Panda is classified as vulnerable in the IUCN Red List (2009.01),[2] and is included in CITES Appendix I.[44] Reliable population numbers are hard to find, partly because other animals have been mistaken for the Red Panda. For instance, one report from Myanmar stated that Red Pandas were still fairly common in some areas, and was accompanied by a photograph of a “Red Panda” as proof. The photograph in question depicted a species of civet.[45]

The population was estimated at less than 2,500 individuals in 1999,[40] and between 16,000 and 20,000 in 2001.[46] The IUCN Red List (2009.01) estimates the total population in China to be between 6,000 and 7,000 and the population in India to be between 5000 and 6000 in the wild, with wild populations still declining.[2] However, these numbers are from surveys done in 2001 and earlier. Estimates for Nepal indicate only a few hundred individuals.[47] There are no records from Bhutan or Myanmar.

The Red Panda is protected in all countries where it lives, and hunting it is illegal.[2] Beyond this, conservation efforts are highly variable between countries:

  • Nepal has one of the highest rates of deforestation in Asia. This country has several protected areas (Langtang National Park, the Dhorpan Game Reserve, Sagarmatha National Park, Makulu National Park, Annapurna Conservation Area, and the Rara National Park). However, some of these areas suffer from human pressure.
  • Bhutan is probably one of the most unspoilt countries in Asia. It still retains large areas of forest. As of 2009, there are nine protected areas (Jigme Dorji National Park, Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park, Royal Manas National Park, Thrumshingla National Park, Bomdeling Wildlife Sanctuary and Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary),[48] but no records of Red Pandas are kept.
  • India (Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and West Bengal) has three protected areas with Red Pandas (Khangchendzonga National Park, Namdapha National Park and Singalila National Park), and a coordinated conservation policy for the Red Panda.[49]
  • Myanmar has a high rate of deforestation and no protected areas.
  • China has several protected areas with Red Pandas (Wolong National Park, the Tangjiahe Reserve, and the Medogo Wanglang Reserve and National Park).


Red Panda National Zoo.ogv
A red panda moves around its enclosure at the National Zoo in Washington, DC.

The Red Panda is quite adaptable to living in captivity, and is common in zoos worldwide. By 1992 there had been more than 300 births in captivity, and there were more than 300 individuals living in 85 institutions worldwide.[6] By 2001 there were 182 individuals in North America alone,[50] and by 2006, 173 institutions around the world hosted 511 individuals of subspecies fulgens,[51] and 81 institutions hosted 306 individuals of subspecies 'styani.[52]

There are captive breeding programs in North America (Species Survival Plan) (SSP) and Europe (European Endangered Species Programme) (EEP), as well as in Australia, India,[49] Japan and China. All are coordinated through the International Studbook (currently managed at the Rotterdam Zoo in the Netherlands), and the International Red Panda Management Group.[52] In 2009, Sarah Glass, Curator of Red Pandas and Special Exhibits at the Knoxville Zoo in Knoxville, Tennessee, was named the coordinator for the North American Red Panda SSP. The Knoxville Zoo has the largest number of captive Red Panda births in the Western Hemisphere (93 as of September 2009). Only the Rotterdam Zoo in the Netherlands has had more captive births worldwide.[52][51]

Recent successes in Red Panda captive breeding include:


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  57. ^ Rare panda newest resident at Edmonton zoo


External links

  • The Red Panda Network – The world's only non-profit organization dedicated to red panda conservation. Retrieved on 2009-11-26.
  • ARKive Red Panda info at ARKive. Retrieved on 2009-12-24 (site does not seem to work in Firefox).
  • Animal Diversity Web Ailurus fulgens. Retrieved on 2009-11-26.
  • Animal Info. Red Panda. Retrieved on 2009-11-26.
  • Birmingham Nature Centre – UK breeding program. Retrieved on 2009-11-26.

Simple English

Red Panda
File:Ailurus fulgens RoterPanda
A. f. fulgens
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Caniformia
Superfamily: Musteloidea
Family: Ailuridae
Genus: Ailurus
Species: A. fulgens
Binomial name
Ailurus fulgens
F. Cuvier, 1825

The Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens) is a mammal. It is the only species of the Ailuridae family. There are two subspecies: Ailurus fulgens fulgens and Ailurus fulgens styani.

Most that are bred at Japanese zoos are Ailurus fulgens styani. They are called レッサーパンダ in Japan and 小熊貓 (xiǎo xìong māo ) in China, both literally translating to english as "small bear cat".



The Red Panda lives in the southern part of China, Sikkim, Nepal, and the Himalaya mountains in high trees. In the Indian state of Sikkim it is the state animal.

Appearance and Life

Red Pandas are about 50-60 centimeters long. They weigh between three to five kilograms. They have chestnut colored hair, and their faces have white designs. They eat fruits, roots, bamboo shoots, acorns, and insects. They are active at night and sleep on trees in the daytime. They act alone, not in groups.


In recent years, more zoos in Japan are breeding Red Pandas. They have become popular for how they look.

A Red Panda which is famous is Futa-Kun. Surprisingly, he can stand on his two rear legs.


  1. Wang, X., Choudhry, A., Yonzon, P., Wozencraft, C. & Than Zaw (2008). Ailurus fulgens. 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2008. Retrieved on 21 September 2009.

Other Websites

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Look up Ailurus fulgens in Wikispecies, a directory of species

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