Red Panda Facts

Scientific Name: Ailurus fulgens
Red pandas are the only living members of their taxonomic family, Ailuridae, first classified and given its scientific name, Ailurus fulgens, in 1825.

Adult Weight:
8 – 17 pounds (3.6 and 7.7 kilograms)

Weight at birth:
3-4 ounces (about 90-110 grams)

Adult Body Length:
20-25 inches long with tails 11-19 inches long

2 to 4 pounds (1 to 2 kilograms) of bamboo per day

Life Span:
8-10 years in the wild
15-20 years in captivity

Eastern Himalayas including Southern China, Nepal, India, Tibet and Bhutan

It is estimated that there are fewer than 10,000 red pandas left in the wild, between two subspecies. In China, the estimate is 6,000 – 7,000 red pandas remaining in the wild. Researchers believe that the total population of red pandas has declined by 40 percent over the past two decades. The primary threats to the red pandas are habitat loss and degradation, human interference and sadly poaching.

Red pandas do well in captivity and are found in zoos around the world. However, they are great at climbing and frequently escape their enclosures.

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The red panda was formally described in 1825. The two currently recognized subspecies, the Himalayan and the Chinese red panda, genetically diverged about 250,000 years ago.

Genetic evidence suggests they are closely related to raccoons, weasels, and skunks. They are not closely related to the giant panda, which is a bear, though both possess elongated wrist bones or “false thumbs” used for grasping bamboo. The evolutionary lineage of the red panda (Ailuridae) stretches back around 25 to 18 million years ago, as indicated by extinct fossil relatives found in Eurasia and North America.

Red pandas are their own, independent family: Ailuridae. Molecular phylogenetic studies show that red pandas are an ancient species in the order Carnivora (superfamily Musteloidea) and are probably most closely related to skunks, raccoons and weasels.

Like the giant panda, the red panda eats mostly bamboo. Red pandas like to strip the bamboo leaves off and eat them, while giant pandas will eat all parts of the bamboo.  Red pandas will also  eat fruits, roots, grasses, acorns, lichens, eggs, insects and small mammals. They will eat most of the time they are awake.

Red pandas have a unique ruddy coat color, which acts like camouflage within the canopy of fir trees where branches are covered with clumps of reddish-brown moss and white lichens. They have large, round heads and short snouts with big, pointed ears. Red pandas have a reddish-brown coat, a black belly, and a long fluffy tail. The tail is bushy with rings of red and buff or black.

Like the giant panda, the red pandas have a special bone in their wrists. The sixth digit, or opposable thumb, is used for grasping bamboo. They use this bone in the same way humans use their thumbs, mainly for grasping food.  They like to strip the bamboo leaves off and eat them, while giant pandas will eat all parts of the bamboo.

Sense of Smell
The sense of smell is very important to red pandas. Scent glands on the bottom of red pandas’ feet exude a colorless liquid that is odorless to humans. The red panda tests odors using the underside of its tongue, which has a cone-like structure for collecting liquid and bringing it close to a gland inside its mouth. It is the only carnivore with this adaptation.

Red pandas use sounds to communicate, but the sounds are normally very quiet.  Their vocalizations for communication include squeals, twitters, and huff quacks that are used for general communication. To signal danger, they hiss or grunt.

Red pandas breed once a year. In the Northern Hemisphere, red pandas breed from January through March, while in the Southern Hemisphere, breeding season extends from June through August.  The females are only in heat for one to three days.

Adult red pandas rarely interact with each other outside of the mating season. During the mating season, scent-markings increase. Males leave their scent by urinating or rubbing on trees. Both males and females may mate with more than one partner in a season.

Red pandas will groom each other a lot during their courtship, but after they have mated, the male doesn’t have anything else to do with the female or the young.

Gestation may include a period of delayed implantation, which may be as short as 93 days or as long as 156 days. Reproduction expends a great deal of energy, so it is believed that a long gestation period may be the result of a slow metabolic rate. Late spring births also coincide with the emergence of the most tender and digestible bamboo shoots and leaves.

After a gestation period of 90 to 145 days, the female gives birth to a litter of one to four, one or two young are the most common. Females will make a nest of leaves and sticks usually in a tree.

Unlike the giant pandas who are born pink with no fur, the red pandas are born completely covered in fur to protect them from the cold environment. Cubs will stay with their mother for about one year, which is when they are full-grown. Red pandas reach sexual maturity at around 18 months of age.

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Like the giant pandas, the red pandas also do not hibernate through the winter, so their thick fur and bushy tails also provide protection from the cold, harsh weather. Also like giant pandas they are a solitary animal and spend most of the time by themselves.

They sleep most of the day and look for food at night, which makes them nocturnal. When they get mad or scared, they will stand on their hind legs and raise their arms. Sometimes they attack with their teeth and claws.

Scientists have recently discovered that there are two distinct species of red panda, not just one, the Chinese red panda and the Himalayan red panda. The Chinese red pandas are found mostly in China and the Himalayan red panda is found in Nepal, India, Bhutan and Myanmar.

The red pandas share the habitat of the giant panda, the coniferous forests with dense undergrowth of bamboo at elevations of 5,000 to 11,000 feet. Rain or dense mist throughout the year shrouds these remote forests in heavy clouds. In the winter snow is common.

Today, these forests are under attack by dramatic increases in human population. Agriculture, ranching, logging, trapping, and human settlement dramatically threaten their habitat. Previously, they lived at lower elevations but farming and clearing of the forest have pushed them higher into the mountains.

Both panda’s primary food source, bamboo, is decreasing. Bamboo grows under the shade cover of the large fir trees. Logging and clearing the land for agricultural uses is a major factor in the reduction of bamboo.

Red pandas are endangered and legally protected in China, India, Bhutan, Nepal and Myanmar. The major threats to the red pandas is habitat loss and degradation, human interference and poaching. Researchers believe that the total population of red pandas has declined by 40 percent over the past two decades. Poaching is still a problem for the red pandas, mainly for their fur tails.

According to the IUCN Red List the status of the Red Panda is Endangered.

Pandas International supports the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Pandas (CCRCGP).  CCRCGP’s supports the giant pandas, but also has red pandas at several of the panda bases.  CCRCGP does medical research on both the giant and the red pandas.

Pandas International has funded bamboo planting in and around the CCRCGP bases.  The bamboo planted is available to both the giant and the red pandas.

Giant Pandas are considered an “Umbrella” Species, so all efforts to save the Umbrella species will help to save all the other species that share the same habitat.  Umbrella species are species that have large territories and once under protection lead to the improved survival of other species that depend on their habitat.