We are focused on red pandas, not only because we think they are the cutest animal on earth, but because if we save them we save a whole landscape that supports 15% of the human population.
Red pandas are a landscape species that, because of their location in the middle mountains of South Asia, are an ambassador for two of earth’s vital life support systems – water and air.
Why Save the Red Panda?
1. Combat Global Warming
Saving red pandas is important because they are an ambassador for clean air and water for approximately 500 million people. The forests where red panda live are the lungs of South Asia and if these forests are intact and function properly, just like a humans lungs, then we can ensure a healthy life for the people, animals and plants of South Asia. (Click on map for larger view)
2. Ecological integrity of South Asia
The mountain chains of the Eastern Himalaya and parts of southwestern China, where red panda are found, are the origin of South Asia’s three largest rivers, the Brahmaputra, Ganges and Yangtse, which provide water for half of China, northern and northwestern India, Nepal, Tibet Autonomous Region of China, Bhutan and Myanmar. According to conservation biologists, red panda are an indicator of the overall health of their home, the Eastern Himalayan Broadleaf Forest, which is the central link in the Himalayan Hotspot. However, the exact population status of this elusive and endangered animal is currently unknown. By not knowing the status of this population we are unsure of the future of one of the most important ecological regions of our planet. By helping us in our mission to protect red panda you are enabling us to create an empowering future for one of the most important regions of our planet, South Asia.
3. They have unique biology
Also, protecting red panda is important to the preservation of the World’s natural heritage and global biodiversity because it is the only species of its kind in the world. It is unique in its behavior and specialized in its habitat requirements, as well as the fact that they have no close living relatives. They are a living relict of times past.
Threats to Red Panda
Habitat destruction is the biggest threat facing red pandas today. In eastern Nepal, there are six negative land management practices that threaten the survival of the species:
Agricultural intensification over the past 15 years has created a need for more land. Land that used to lay fallow is now used for purposes such as tea or cardamom fields and fodder growth. Some private forests have been cut and replaced with cardamom monocultures of uttis (Alnus nepalensis) upper canopy and cardamom understory. The fields are also sprayed with insecticides to ensure proper yields.
Fodder and Firewood
An increasing trend toward dairies has fueled the demand for fodder, and the plant that is most commonly used for this purpose is malingo, a small bamboo that is the red panda’s main food source. Another negative effect of dairies is their exorbitant use of firewood. Although they have money to pay for firewood privileges, dairies in the region have been known to cut more than they are allotted.
(Photo by Red Panda Network)
The preferred material for home construction has changed from stone, mud, and bamboo to timber. A prosperous household can now afford to buy timber from Community Forests.
A strong medicinal plant trade and the creation of Singhalila National Park (SNP) on the Indian side in 1992 have depleted the medicinal plant populations due to over-harvesting.
(Photo by Environmental Change Institute)
The other main threat to red pandas is illegal hunting. Red pandas are sometimes killed for their coats, which trappers use to make hats and clothing. Fortunately, the creation of the SNP has led to a decrease in hunting. Rimbick, an Indian village on the perimeter of the park, was once the hub for the international red panda trade. According to locals, 47 red pandas were sold in one year from this village to stock the zoos of the world.
According to local community forest managers, the most devastating use of the forest today is grazing. Before the creation of SNP in 1992, over 300 Goths, or temporary cattle herding stations, were located within the park’s current boundaries. Although the SNP staff forced cattle herders to leave, many of the Indian herders sold their cattle to Nepalese herders who continue to heavily overgraze the PIS Corridor using chauri (yak-hill cow hybrids). This has led to the degradation of once-pristine Silver fir (Abies spectabilis) forests, the preferred habitat of the red panda.
(Photo by L.Keenan)