A-z - Animals

red panda

Classification and Evolution

The red panda (Ailurus fulgens) is a cat-sized carnivorous mammal that inhabits temperate mountain forests on the slopes of the Himalayas. Pandaidae is a family of mammalian carnivora, of which the red panda is the only extant representative. As their name suggests, they are distantly related to the larger and better-known giant pandas. The extinct Himalayan and Chinese red pandas diverged from their bear ancestors 250 billion years ago. One feature that red pandas share with giant pandas is that both animals have slender wrist bones — or false thumbs — that they use to grasp bamboo. Molecular tests, however, suggest that red pandas are more closely related to raccoons, weasels and skunks. The red panda also goes by many different names in its native regions, including Red Panda, Red Panda, and Firefox in Nepal. Like their larger distant cousins, the red panda is an animal that relies on bamboo for nutrition, and as forests in these unique areas are rapidly deforested, there is less and less for these animals to eat, eventually leading to red pandas being listed as as an endangered species.

Red pandas are more like raccoons than bears.© Mikegr on de.wikipedia/Creative Commons

anatomy and appearance

The red panda is a cute animal about the size of a large domestic cat, with a cat-like face and a long, fluffy tail. Their bodies are covered with a thick, reddish fur, except for the almost white ears, cheeks, muzzle, and spots above the eyes. Red pandas also have reddish-brown stripes on the sides of their white muzzle and alternating light and dark rings on their tails. Red pandas are equipped with semi-retractable claws that help stabilize them while climbing trees and branches. They also have strong, tough jaws that they use to chew bamboo. Like giant pandas, red pandas have a unique extended wrist bone that functions like a human thumb, allowing them to grasp bamboo while chewing. Thick, tightly packed fur helps red pandas stay warm during the harsh winters they face in their habitat. Red pandas also have extra thick fur on the soles of their feet for warmth and grip.

Red pandas are being driven out of their native habitat.© Stavenn / Creative Commons

Distribution and Habitat

Red pandas inhabit temperate forests in the Himalayas between 1,800 and 4,000 meters above sea level. These alpine slopes are often covered with deciduous broad-leaved forests, and under the forest canopy grows bamboo, which is vital to the survival of red pandas. Their historical range extends into Bhutan, Nepal, India, Myanmar, and China, where their range often overlaps with that of the rarer giant panda, however, the red panda is now extinct in some parts of these regions, and its Numbers are rapidly dropping others. Due to the fragile ecology of native mountain forests and their reliance on food consisting mostly of bamboo, red pandas are being squeezed into smaller, more isolated pockets of their once vast range. Climate change is affecting the ability of these habitats to produce enough bamboo to sustain the species.



Little panda lying on a tree with its tongue out
Red pandas sleep during the day and eat at night.©dean bertoncelj/Shutterstock.com

Behavior and Lifestyle

Except during the breeding season, red pandas are generally nocturnal and solitary animals. During the day, red pandas sleep on branches high in tree canopies, with their long, bushy tails wrapped around them for warmth. Although they have been known to forage in trees, they usually return to the ground after dusk to begin foraging safely in the dark. The red panda is a territorial animal, marking its path with feces and urine, and releasing musky secretions from its anal glands. They often communicate with each other by short whistles and squeaks. The red panda is a strong and agile climber, and while it usually sleeps safely on a tree branch during the day, it can also use its sharp claws to rush up a tree trunk if threatened by a predator.

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Red panda cubs are not allowed to leave the nest until they are three months old.© Mizunoryu/Creative Commons

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Red pandas usually breed between January and March. After a gestation period of about four months, females give birth to 1-5 pups. The cubs are born blind, and while they begin to open their eyes within a few weeks, red panda cubs don’t fully open their eyes until they are about a month old. Before her cubs are born, a female red panda builds her nest in hollow areas of trees, at the roots, or in bamboo thickets lined with leaves, moss, and other soft plant material. Red panda cubs usually don’t leave the nest until they are about three months old and strong enough to climb over thorny branches. They only eat bamboo until they are old enough to eat other foods. After about a year, red pandas grow to full adult size. Young red pandas have a high mortality rate, with up to 80 percent never reaching adulthood.

Red Panda Chewing Plants
Red pandas are classified as carnivores, but their diet is mainly bamboo shoots.© Jose Angel Astor Rocha/Shutterstock.com

diet and prey

Although red pandas are carnivorous mammals, their diet is actually almost entirely vegetarian, as bamboo shoots make up the majority of their diet. However, since the red panda is a mammal, it has a short digestive system, which means that although bamboo contains very little nutrition in any case, red pandas cannot make full use of their food. However, unlike the giant panda, the red panda will also eat a variety of other foods to supplement its diet. These foods include acorns, berries, and grasses, as well as grubs, mice, lizards, chicks, and bird eggs. Red pandas have excellent senses of sight, smell and hearing. Additionally, the red panda has long white whiskers on its nose, which help it move through dense vegetation during the dark nights, when it is most active foraging. For a full list of foods red pandas eat, check out our “What do giant pandas eat?” page.

snow leopard
Snow leopards, mink and birds of prey are the only natural threats to red pandas.© Warren Metcalfe/Shutterstock.com

Predators and Threats

Because red pandas inhabit high-altitude mountain forests, they actually have fewer natural enemies than if their habitat were further down the slopes. Snow leopards and mink are the red panda’s only real predators, although raptors and small predators prey on smaller, more vulnerable cubs. However, the biggest threat to the red panda is that people mainly affect the species through logging of its extremely unique habitat. Giant panda populations have suffered severe declines due to human encroachment, illegal hunting, and poaching, and these populations have also been pushed into more isolated, isolated areas. One of the main concerns about this is that these populations will be threatened by inbreeding, resulting in less successful individuals in these areas.

Red pandas sunbathe in tall trees to keep warm in the cold weather.© Aconcagua/Creative Commons

Interesting Facts and Features

Living in a cold mountain climate means red pandas are great for keeping warm, with thick fur and a warm, bushy tail. However, on particularly cold days, red pandas bask in the sun high up in the canopy to keep warm while they sleep during the day. A 2001 study found that 79 percent of reported red pandas were found within 100 meters of the nearest body of water, suggesting that a good water source may also be crucial to their already stringent habitat requirements. Evidence also suggests that red pandas have been experiencing declining reproductive rates, which is thought to be linked to the fact that they are eating less food to survive and reproduce successfully.

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Red pandas are rare in the wild, but can be seen in zoos around the world.© Millie Bond – Copyright AZ Animals

relationship with humans

Red pandas have been admired for years, but most of our experiences with them have been in zoos and animal institutions as these rare and mysterious animals that are hard to spot in the wild. However, our fascination with red pandas is one of the factors that contributed to their extinction. For example, one Indian village reported that 47 red pandas were captured and sold to zoos around the world in one year alone. Human disturbance to its unique and specialized habitat is thought to be the biggest cause of red panda declines across the Himalayas, with deforestation, mainly in the form of logging, being one of the culprits. Like the giant panda, the red panda relies heavily on high-altitude bamboo forests to survive, and unfortunately has nowhere to go without them.

Protect the status quo and life today

Today, red pandas are listed on the IUCN Red List as endangered animal species in their natural environment and therefore face a serious threat of extinction in the near future. It is estimated that there are fewer than 3,000 red pandas left in the wild. There are fewer than 10,000 red pandas in total, most of which live in small reserves within the national park. A number of captive breeding programs have also been established in Asia, Europe and North America, which appear to have had a positive impact on red panda populations.

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about the author

Lisa Pace


After a career providing opportunities for local communities to experience and create art, I enjoy having time to write about two of my favorite things – nature and animals. I spend half my life outside, usually with my husband and adorable 14 year old puppy. We enjoyed walking around the lake and taking photos of the animals we encountered including: otters, osprey, Canada geese, ducks and nesting bald eagles. I also enjoy reading, discovering books to add to my library, collecting and playing vinyl records, and listening to my son’s music.

Red Panda FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Are red pandas good pets?

The short answer is no, red pandas are not good pets. Not only are they endangered, but they use scent marking profusely, making them smelly neighbors in any household. It’s illegal to own them, and even if it wasn’t, taking care of them would be very difficult.

Are red pandas herbivores, carnivores or omnivores?

Red pandas are omnivores, which means they eat both plants and other animals.

Which kingdom does the red panda belong to?

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The red panda belongs to the animal kingdom.

What door does the red panda belong to?

Red pandas belong to the phylum Chordate.

Which category does the red panda belong to?

The red panda belongs to the mammalian class.

What family does the red panda belong to?

The red panda belongs to the panda family.

What order does the red panda belong to?

Red pandas belong to the order Carnivora.

What genus does the red panda belong to?

The red panda belongs to the genus Giant Panda.

What type of mulch do red pandas have?

Red pandas are covered with fur.

Where does the red panda live?

Red pandas live in the Himalayas.

What type of habitat do red pandas live in?

Red pandas live in high-altitude mountain forests.

Who are the natural enemies of red pandas?

Natural enemies of red pandas include snow leopards, mink and humans.

What is the average litter size of a red panda?

The average litter size of red pandas is 3 litters.

What are some interesting facts about red pandas?

There are less than 3,000 red pandas left in the wild!

What is the scientific name of the red panda?

The scientific name of the red panda is Ailurus fulgens.

What is the lifespan of a red panda?

Red pandas can live 8 to 12 years.

What is the baby panda’s name?

Baby pandas are called cubs.

How many kinds of red pandas are there?

There is 1 species of red panda.

What is the biggest threat to red pandas?

The biggest threat facing red pandas is habitat loss.

What is another name for the red panda?

Red Panda is also known as Red Panda or Firefox.

How many red pandas are left in the world?

There are less than 3,000 red pandas left in the world.

How fast is the red panda?

Red pandas can travel at speeds of up to 24 miles per hour.

What is the difference between a red panda and a raccoon?

Red pandas differ from raccoons in their preferred habitat and diet. Raccoons are also gray and white, while red pandas are rust red and white in appearance.

What is the difference between a red panda and a panda?

There are many differences between pandas and red pandas. Pandas are much larger than red pandas, which have long tails while giant pandas do not. However, their diets are similar and their habitats are the same.

What does the little panda say…

Hungary

Vörös macskamedve

Thanks for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

source
  1. David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2011) Animals, The Definitive Visual Guide to the World’s Wildlife
  2. Tom Jackson, Lorenz Books (2007) Encyclopedia of World Animals
  3. David Burney, Kingfisher (2011) The Animal Encyclopedia of Kingfishers
  4. Richard Mackay, University of California Press (2009) Atlas of Threatened Species
  5. David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2008) Illustrated Animal Encyclopedia
  6. Dorling Kindersley (2006) Dorling Kindersley Animal Encyclopedia
  7. David W. Macdonald, Oxford University Press (2010) Encyclopedia of Mammals
  8. About red pandas, available here: http://www.animalcorner.co.uk/wildlife/pandas/panda_red.html
  9. Red panda facts, available here: http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/red-panda/
  10. Red Panda Diet, available here: http://www.bearlife.org/red-panda.html
  11. Red panda information, available here: http://www.animalinfo.org/species/carnivor/ailufulg.htm
  12. Red Panda Conservation, available here: http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/714/0