Kanchan Thapa, Gokarna Jung Thapa, Damber Bista, Shant Raj Jnawali, Krishna Prasad Acharya, Kapil Khanal, Ram Chandra Kandel, Madhuri Karki Thapa, Saroj Shrestha, Sonam Tashi Lama, & Netra Sharma Sapkota
PLOS ONE 15(12)
11 December 2020
The Himalayan red panda is an endangered mammal endemic to Eastern Himalayan and South Western China. Data deficiency often hinders understanding of their spatial distribution and habitat use, which is critical for species conservation planning. We used sign surveys covering the entire potential red panda habitat over 22,453 km2 along the mid-hills and high mountains encompassing six conservation complexes in Nepal. To estimate red panda distribution using an occupancy framework, we walked 1,451 km along 446 sampled grid cells out of 4,631 grid cells in the wet season of 2016. We used single-species, single-season models to make inferences regarding covariates influencing detection and occupancy. We estimated the probability of detection and occupancy based on model-averaging techniques and drew predictive maps showing site-specific occupancy estimates. We observed red panda in 213 grid cells and found covariates such as elevation, distance to water sources, and bamboo cover influencing the occupancy. Red panda detection probability estimated at 0.70 (0.02). We estimated red panda site occupancy (sampled grid cells) and landscape occupancy (across the potential habitat) at 0.48 (0.01) and 0.40 (0.02) respectively. The predictive map shows a site-specific variation in the spatial distribution of this arboreal species along the priority red panda conservation complexes. Data on their spatial distribution may serve as a baseline for future studies and are expected to aid in species conservation planning in priority conservation complexes.