In order to understand the effectiveness of an endangered species conservation program, it is essential to have accurate baseline population data. In the case of the red panda, this is absent.

To date, we have conducted baseline research of red panda within the Panchthar, Ilam and Taplejung (PIT) districts of Eastern Nepal, as well as preliminary surveys in Central and Western Nepal where anecdotal reports of red panda sightings have yet to be documented systematically by science.

Several years of monitoring has allowed us to see  the effectiveness of our conservation programs and we have seen an increase in red panda awareness among the local communities where we conduct our research. And while media reports about poachers caught with red panda skins continue from other parts of Nepal, no poaching arrests were necessary in areas where RPN has been building community awareness.

Our objective is to conduct non-invasive, cost-effective status surveys in all five range countries by the end of 2020. Our flagship community-based monitoring program is called Project Punde Kundo. In this program, we train locals as professional forest stewards or “forest guardians,” where they learn survey and monitoring methodology and we provide technical assistance after the program is operational.

Being involved in the research and monitoring program helps to create a sense of red panda stewardship among the forest guardians (FGs). The FG program provides alternative employment opportunities that benefit the livelihoods of the professional stewards and their families. This program changes the local perception of the forest as a source of extractive income to one of long-term sustainable benefit.