Red pandas are sweet looking, unobtrusive and stunning mammals that live in the mountainous forests in the Himalayas. With their lustrous and vibrant reddish brown fur and round sweet faces; they have the vague appearance of a fox rather than a Giant Panda. Here’s more about a mysterious animal that my boyfriend and I fell in love with after a recent trip to the Auckland Zoo.
They love Splenda and Equal
Strangely enough red pandas adore fake sugar. A 2009 study by the Journal of Heredity identified that red pandas enjoy the fake sugar in artificially sweetened water. They are the only non-primate species known to be able to taste aspartame. This ability was previously only thought to exist in Old World monkeys, humans and apes.
They have many other names
Although it shares its name with the giant panda Ailuropoda melanoleuca, the red panda name is a misnomer. These cute little balls of fluff have more in common phylogenetically with the pinniped (seals, sea lions, walrus) and mustelid (weasels, skunks, otters) families rather than the giant panda. Their scientific name Ailurus fulgens means fire coloured cat. To further add to the confusion, Nepalese sherpas call them variously ye niglva ponva or wah donka.
English naturalist Thomas Hardwicke also wanted to call them wah, when he discovered the red panda in the Himalayas in 1821. Hardwicke presented them as wah to the Linnean society in London. In a distinguished presentation entitled ‘Description of a new Genus of the Class Mammalia, from the Himalaya Chain of Hills Between Nepaul and the Snowy Mountains’. He argued that the animal should be named this because of the curious sound it makes. Something akin to a yodelling drunken cat.
They make a quark-snort
Scientists have called the sound they make twittering and quark-snorting. These people obviously have a decent sense of humour. According to researchers at the National Zoo, twittering is a gentle way of signifying readiness to mate a.k.a panda flirting.
They are herbviborous carnivorans
Red pandas belong to the Order Carnivora. Carnivorans have bodies adapted to eating flesh: large sharp teeth and powerful jaws. Although many carnivorans such as bears and red pandas also feast primarily on plant matter. Red pandas can be tempted by bamboo shoots, fruit, flowers and the odd egg or bird. This makes them a nightmare to invite to a dinner party in the forest. Another carnivoran who is primarily herbivorous diet is the the binturong, the funny-looking bearcat that smells uncannily of popcorn.
They compete with cheese factories
Red pandas live in the mountainous forests of Myanmar and the Sichuan and Yunnan provinces of China. Two sub species are separated by the Himalayas. With Ailurus fulgens living to the west in Nepal, Assam, Sikkim and Bhutan. And Ailurus styani living in southern China and northern Burma, east of the mountain range. They survive on the thick bamboo foliage at high elevations above 2,200 metres. At similar elevations and habitat conditions in New Zealand, we can find the Kea, a gloriously colourful parrot.
In Nepal’s Langtang National Park there are around 40 pandas that live in the area. Quite problematically, there are also cheese factories in the area. To produce 14,000 kg of cheese per year farmers keep chauri, a native cow allowed to graze in the national park. Competition between the chauri and red panda, and threats from farmers and dogs, has led to a dwindling population.
The journal of Conservation Biology and WWF has hit upon the perfect solution. Restrict the number of grazing cows in the park, while also increasing the price of cheese so that farmers can still get the same income. The numbers of Ailurus styani have declined by 40% in the past 50 years due to red pandas being hunted for their pelt in Yunnan China. We hope this solution happens and is successful.
But they do have a species survival plan
Although listed as vulerable, the red panda is protected in all countries except Myanmar. A breeding programme involving more than 30 zoos around the globe has managed to monitor and control their dwindling numbers in the wild.