In order to understand the impact 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.
In 2016, Red Panda Network (RPN) completed a national status, habitat, and distribution survey of red pandas in Nepal. This study has provided important scientific insight into the distribution and abundance of red pandas, habitat quality, as well as deforestation and climate change throughout red panda range of the entire country.
Continued monitoring has allowed us to see the effectiveness of our conservation programs and there has been an increase in red panda awareness among the local communities where we conduct our research. There have been reports of poachers caught with red panda skins in other parts of Nepal but no poaching arrests were necessary in areas where RPN has been building community awareness.
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. This program provides alternative employment opportunities that benefit the livelihoods of the professional stewards and their families. It also changes the local perception of the forest as a source of extractive income to one of long-term sustainable benefit.