Wildlife & Biodiversity

Red Panda Day: What is the status of the Indian Red Panda

The cute and cuddly carnivore is threatened by a host of factors 

By Rajat Ghai
Published: Saturday 19 September 2020

India may not be home to the Giant Panda, but we do host its similarly named smaller counterpart.

The Red Panda’s range extends in a straight line along the Himalayas to the Hengduan mountain range in China. It consists of Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, north Bengal, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, northern Myanmar and China’s Sichuan and Yunnan provinces.

The Great Bend of the Brahmaputra divides the panda into two populations: The Himalayan Red Panda and the Chinese Red Panda

The Red Panda is mentioned in a 13th century Chinese scroll, according to Angela Glatston, a world authority on the animal. In the 1990s, it became Sikkim’s state animal and the mascot of the Darjeeling Tea Festival.

However, this species’ future is in jeopardy. Throughout its range, it is threatened by hunting, poaching, linear infrastructure, habitat loss, illegal trafficking, the pet trade, competition for food from wild species as well as livestock and most worryingly, inbreeding.

The IUCN Red List categorises Red Pandas as ‘endangered’ as there are less than 10,000 breeding individuals left globally. Of these, India has an estimated 5,000-6,000 animals.

A recent media report talked about active illegal trafficking of Red Pandas taking place in the Singalila and Neora Valley National Parks in North Bengal.

“Red Pandas have been popular pets and have had a presence in the destructive wildlife trade. If there is an ongoing trade in this species, we urge the relevant authorities to take all possible measures to curb this trade. Wildlife belongs in the wild and wildlife trade should end,” Gajender Sharma, chief executive, World Animal Protection India, an animal welfare organisation, told Down To Earth.

The Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park in Darjeeling started a conservation breeding programme for Red Pandas in the 1990s.

“Red Panda is dependent mostly on bamboos. Bamboo is useless for most other animals. It is a very low-energy diet. The Red Panda feeds on this. It is actually an exceptional animal. It is the only mammal that goes into torpor when it becomes cold. Plus, it is a carnivore. It feeds on other plants and small animals also in addition to bamboo. Thus, it creates a balance in its environment,” NC Bahuguna, former principal chief conservator of forests, West Bengal, told DTE.  

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