Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens)

Sometimes I spend a fair bit of time searching for an appropriate animal to blog about. Other times an animal comes up in conversation during the week that inspires a blog entry. And sometimes, an animal has for so long been one of my favourites that I am shocked I have not yet written about it. Such is the case with today’s animal, the red panda.

Red pandas are, in my opinion, one of the all-time cutest animals on earth. Everything from their colour to their funny feet, big bushy tail and beautiful face with its raccoon like markings screams adorable. If you don’t agree with me there may be something wrong with you. Just look at this sweet animal:

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Red pandas are tree-dwellers that live in mountainous regions of China and Northern India. Despite its name and habitat, red pandas aren’t that closely related to giant pandas. Giant pandas are bears, in the family ursidae, and though red pandas used to be classified in Ursidae, it has recently been discovered that this is not an appropriate classification. Red pandas are much more closely related to raccoons, which you can kind of see based on those face markings and that ringed tail. But even then red pandas aren’t that close to racoons; they used to be placed in the raccoon family (Procyonidae), but again this was found to be false. Instead, red pandas are placed in their own family, Ailurdae, in which they are the only extant species.

Red pandas are similar to giant pandas in that they eat mostly bamboo. Because red (and giant) pandas are monogastric, they are unable to digest cellulose, the principle component in bamboo, these guys have to eat a ton of bamboo to get enough energy to live (if you want to know more about animal digestion, I do a quick run through on the hoatzin post). As a result of the low energy they get from their diets, red pandas spend pretty much all their time eating or sleeping.

So far it seems like red pandas would make ideal pets, right? They are undoubtedly adorable, are fairly small (most weigh around 7-14 pounds), and they spend most of their time sleeping or eating. So why haven’t we tried to domesticate them? I imagine you could keep one as a pet, but there are probably some good reasons why they aren’t usually found around the house. For example, red pandas are generally solitary and territorial, a difficult thing to overcome when trying to domesticate an animal. Another reason might be that red pandas are very heat sensitive – they cannot tolerate temperatures above 25 degrees celsius. I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t want a pet that couldn’t go out on nice sunny days.

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A red panda sleeping in a tree. When they are too hot the pandas spread themselves out on a branch and dangle their legs to try and lose as much heat as possible.

Despite this, red pandas do adapt well in captivity, and they are found in zoos worldwide. Many Carnivores (order Carnivora, not ‘things that eat meat’) traditionally do very poorly in zoos; just think of a polar bear pacing back and forth repetitively in its enclosure. Red pandas, however seem to do just fine, which is a good thing for them because captive breeding programs can go a long way to restoring and maintaining the native population.

Overall, I have to say the red panda is one of my all time favourite animals. I know I say this about a lot of the creatures I blog about, but I have a lot of favourite animals. And I know the red panda might not be as quirky or strange as some of the crazy reptiles or birds or whatever that I’ve talked about, but I thought you should know about it. It’s just too darned cute to ignore.

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