These acrobatic tree-dwellers use sharp claws for climbing and bushy tails for balance as they move through the bamboo forest. Back when they were named, red pandas were believed to be closely related to giant pandas. With DNA evidence, scientists now know that they are more closely related to raccoons.
What They Eat
Bamboo leaves are the primary food of red pandas. They also eat berries, blossoms, bird eggs, and leaves from other plants. An enlarged bone on each wrists act like an extra thumb, allowing them to grasp slender leaves and branches.
Where They Live
Red pandas live in remote areas of the Himalayan mountains. They can be found in cool, temperate bamboo forests at elevations of 7,200-15,750 feet.
What They Do
These shy animals prefer to live alone, spending much of their lives in trees. Males and females come together only during mating season. Red pandas are most active while foraging for food in the morning and evening. During the day they can be found relaxing in tree branches or fallen logs.
How They’re Doing
Red pandas are an endangered species. Their numbers in the wild are continually declining due to habitat loss from agriculture, deforestation, and growing human populations.
- The Chinese call the red panda hun-ho, which translates to “fire fox” because they are the color and size of a fox.
- Like raccoons, red pandas dip their paws in water to get them wet and then lick them off to drink.
- Red pandas spend more than half of their day-up to 13 hours-searching for bamboo!
- Red pandas start their day by licking their front paws and cleaning the fur all over their bodies.
- Because bamboo is low in nutrients and hard to digest, red pandas need to consume up to 30% of their body weight in the fibrous plant each day (2.5-3 pounds) just to get enough calories! They select tender young leaves and shoots and chew them thoroughly to help digestion.
- Disguised by the color of their coats, red pandas blend in well with the red moss and white lichens that grow on the trees where they live.
Red pandas are an endangered species. Habitat loss, fragmentation, and degradation is a primary threat to red pandas. Red pandas live in montane forests of Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, and Nepal. They need thick bamboo understories because they depend on bamboo for their diet.
Red pandas may also face threats from canine distemper virus, as they increasingly come into contact increasingly with unvaccinated domestic dogs. Poaching of red pandas is also a problem, as demand is increasing for the pet trade and for other purposes, such as traditional medicines and meat.
Things the Zoo’s done/doing
The Minnesota Zoo has supported Red Panda Network’s Forest Guardian Program. Forest guardians monitor and protect red panda habitat, as well as educate their communities about the importance of the red panda to their future.
The Minnesota Zoo, in conjunction with several other North American zoos, also participates in the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan (SSP) for red pandas. The Red Panda SSP helps manage and improve the lives of captive populations in North America, and through research, education, and conservation activities works to help preserve red panda populations in their natural habitat.