Accurate baseline population data is essential to the success of endangered species conservation programs. 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.
Community-based monitoring is key to our red panda conservation efforts in eastern Nepal. Local forest users are trained as professional forest stewards or “Forest Guardians,” where they learn survey and research techniques, and conduct monthly red panda habitat and population monitoring.
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.
The monitoring performed by our Forest Guardians allows us to see the status of local red panda populations and habitat and respond with effective conservation strategies.