Damber Bista, Saroj Shrestha, Peema Sherpa, Gokarna Jung Thapa, Manish Kokh, Sonam Tashi Lama, Kapil Khanal, Arjun Thapa, Shant Raj Jnawali.
11 October 2017.
In Nepal, the red panda (Ailurus fulgens) has been sparsely studied, although its range covers a wide area. The present study was carried out in the previously untapped Chitwan-Annapurna Landscape (CHAL) situated in central Nepal with an aim to explore current distributional status and identify key habitat use. Extensive field surveys conducted in 10 red panda range districts were used to estimate species distribution by presence-absence occupancy modeling and to predict distribution by presence-only modeling. The presence of red pandas was recorded in five districts: Rasuwa, Nuwakot, Myagdi, Baglung and Dhading. The predictive distribution model indicated that 1,904.44 km2 of potential red panda habitat is available in CHAL with the protected area covering nearly 41% of the total habitat. The habitat suitability analysis based on the probability of occurrence showed only 16.58% (A = 315.81 km2) of the total potential habitat is highly suitable. Red Panda occupancy was estimated to be around 0.0667, indicating nearly 7% (218 km2) of the total habitat is occupied with an average detection probability of 0.4482±0.377. Based on the habitat use analysis, altogether eight variables including elevation, slope, aspect, proximity to water sources, bamboo abundance, height, cover, and seasonal precipitation were observed to have significant roles in the distribution of red pandas. In addition, 25 tree species were documented from red panda sign plots out of 165 species recorded in the survey area. Most common was Betula utilis followed by Rhododendron spp. and Abies spectabilis. The extirpation of red pandas in previously reported areas indicates a need for immediate action for the long-term conservation of this species in CHAL.