At first glance, the red panda looks like a cross between a small bear with a round head and small pointed ears and a raccoon with a pointed tail. However, the red panda or Eilurus fulgensis a mammal of the family Ailuridae, of which it is the only representative.
Red panda and giant panda, what’s the difference?
Indeed, the red panda has little in common with the giant panda other than its name… and its diet! This carnivorous little panda actually has an omnivorous, even herbivorous, diet: it feeds mainly on bamboo stalks, and sometimes supplements its meal with a few berries, twigs or even eggs, as well as small birds or insects.
Tasting bamboo is also aided by the presence of a “sixth toe” on its front paws, similar to that of a giant panda. This is a modified wrist bone that acts like a thumb and allows for a better grip on the bamboo stalks between the legs.
The body of the red panda is especially adapted to life in trees: it has semi-retractable claws, rather long and rather thick, very practical for climbing trees. Its inwardly retracted front legs also make it easier to move between trees and give the red panda a waddling gait when walking on the ground.
Its tail serves as a pendulum when it climbs trees. Finally, its thick fur allows it to withstand the extreme temperatures at high altitudes where it lives, and pads under its paws protect it from snow.
Where to find red pandas?
Indeed, we find this agile climber in the mountain forests of the Himalayas, in Asia. The red panda population is very fragmented, strictly speaking there is no distribution area, but it can be found in Bhutan, Burma, China, India, Nepal or Tibet.
Red pandas live in temperate forests inhabited by thickets of bamboo. The animal lives in trees and descends from one trunk only to climb another. A small specificity of this mammal: it descends from the trees head first.
Red panda, solitary animal
Outside of the breeding season, which usually occurs at the end of winter, the red panda is solitary. In particular, males and females meet only at this time and disperse after mating. The red panda’s pregnancy lasts about 4 and a half months or 135 days. The mother gives birth to a litter of two to four cubs, which she will keep under her wing in a tree hole or den for about three months before the cubs become independent. At birth, red pandas measure only a few centimeters. Then they can reach fifty or even sixty centimeters, with their tail being half their size.
An endangered species
With a diet of mostly bamboo, these small animals are the first to suffer the ravages of deforestation after being hunted for a long time for their fur. In the wild, their main predator is the snow leopard, which primarily attacks young animals. Despite the European Captive Breeding Plan, which it has enjoyed since 1985, the red panda is now seriously endangered. Less than 10,000 would remain in the wild, although births are common in zoos around the world.
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