Red Panda

Red panda (Ailurus fulgens)



The red panda is the only extant member of the Ailuridae family, categorized within the Carnivora order under the higher Mammalia class. Though similar to bears, cats, and raccoons, the red panda’s taxonomic classification has been a topic of ongoing debate amongst researchers. Listed as Endangered with a population of less than 10,000 individuals, red pandas are threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation.


Readily distinguishable from other Carnivora in coat color, red pandas have a face that is predominantly white with reddish brown tear marks extending from the inferior region of the orbit to the corner of the mouth; post-cranial dorsal pelage reddish- or orange-brown and ventral pelage glossy black; legs that are black and the soles of the feet are covered with dense, white hair. The reddish-orange pelage of the red panda appears cryptic against the canopy of fir (Abies) trees where branches are covered with clumps of reddish-brown moss (Order Bryales) and white lichens (Usnea).

There is no sexual dimorphism in the size or color of red pandas, meaning both males and females are similar.

The mean mass of adult male red pandas is 5 kilograms, but can range from 3.7 to 6.2 kilograms. For females, the mean mass is 4.9 kilograms and varies from 4.2 to 6 kilograms. The length of the red panda’s head and body is 560 to 625 millimeters and the length of the red panda’s tail is 370 to 472 millimeters.

In general, the skull size of the red panda is large compared with that of carnivores of similar body size, such as Procyonidae. Greater depth of skull may improve bite pressure at the level of the cheekteeth; particularly high values are found for zygomatic arch width, occipital height, condyle to m1 length and jaw cross-section area. Relative brain size, measured from cranial capacity, is comparable with that of Procyonidae.

Red pandas possess extremely robust dentition in contrast with that of the procyonids with which they are compared frequently. The P4, M1, and M2 are wider than they are long and bear accessory cusplets. Each upper premolar possesses more than one cusp and P3 has a well developed paracone and hypocone; P1 is absent and the p1 is minute or absent. The dental formula is I ³⁄3, C ¹⁄1, P ³⁄₄, M ²⁄2, ×2 = 36-38. The fourth upper premolar, a principal discerning dental character in Carnivora, is large with five cusps as in Procyon and Ailuropoda. By contrast, in the Ursidae P4 has only three cusps which are degenerate. The second and third upper and lower premolars are large and robust. The large cheek-tooth surface promotes mediolateral movement for a grinding action and correlates with a highly specialized diet of bamboo and fibrous plant material. The symphasis meti is relatively flexible with a moderate degree of independent movement of the hemimandibles.

Red pandas have legs that are black, and the soles of the feet are covered with dense, white hair.

The red panda is the only Asian carnivore in which the plantar surface of the foot is completely covered with hair.

A series of small pores from which appear small amounts of clear, colorless, and odorless fluid, occurs on the plantar surface of the feet. The pores are contained in slightly raised areas between the plantar pads and are associated with small, slightly elongated, and thickened hairs. These pores may secrete substances that are used in depositing scent trails.

Red panda forepaws are frequently used to pick, manipulate, and pull apart food, particularly bamboo leaves and stalks. The five digits on each foot of the red panda are in a strongly curved line and and terminate with curved semi-retractile claws, used effectively in climbing. The radial sesamoid bone of the wrist articulates primarily with the radial carpal bone and is greatly enlarged but relatively less so than the sesamoid bone of the giant panda, Ailuropoda. The postscapular fossa is moderately large and may be indicative of its arboreality where the forelimbs are more supportive while climbing than the hindlimbs.

The red panda’s tail is proportionately shorter in young than in adults, averaging about 70 millimeters or 25% of the total length in contrast to about 40% of the total length in adults. The tail is not prehensile, but is used as a support and counterbalance when climbing. In normal progression on the ground, the tail is carried straight out and horizontal to the ground.

The red panda’s left lung is divided into two lobes, similar to Procyonidae, Mustelidae, and Ursidae, but contrasting with the remaining carnivore families that have three lobes. Reduction of lobes seems to be associated with a broadening of the thorax, whose functional change is unknown. The red panda’s right lung is divided into four lobes, as in all fissiped carnivores.

The maximum lifespan of the red panda in captivity is approximately 14 years, but generally, captive animals do not live beyond 8-10 years. The mortality schedule in red pandas is similar to that of other mammals, being highest in the youngest, (0-1 year,) and oldest, (7-12 years,) age classes with a decline during middle age (1-7 years.)

28 cm. / 11 in.
50-66 cm. / 20-26 in.
3-9 kg. / 8-20 lb.
I ³⁄3, C ¹⁄1, P ³⁄₄, M ²⁄2, ×2 = 36-38
8-15 yr.
6 yr.



The red panda is the only extant species within the Ailuridae family.

The higher taxonomic affinity of Ailurus has been a subject of almost as much debate as the taxonomic placement of the giant panda. Since its discovery in the early 1800’s, Ailurus has, at various times, been placed in the Procyonidae, the Ursidae, with Ailuropoda in Ailuropodidae, and in the monotypic family Ailuridae. This uncertainty has arisen because of difficulties in determining whether certain characteristics of Ailurus are phylogenetically conservative or are derived and convergent with species of similar ecological habits.

Evidence based on the fossil record, serology, karyology, behavior, anatomy, and reproduction reflect closer affinities with Procyonidae than Ursidae. However, ecological and foraging specializations and distribution distinct from the modern procyonid radiation warrant classification in a separate family (Ailuridae) derivative of the Procyonidae.

Most behaviors of the red panda are typically carnivore-like and offer few clues to the taxonomic placement of the species. Certain categories of behaviors, especially scent-marking, some vocalizations, body postures, foraging, and feeding behavior reveal similarities between the red panda and giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca).

The distribution of the red panda is disjointed, with two extant subspecies, Ailurus fulgens fulgens, the Western red panda, and Ailurus fulgens styani, Styan’s red panda.

The Brahmaputra River is often considered the natural division between the two subspecies, where it makes a curve around the eastern end of the Himalayas, although some authors suggest the Western red panda extends farther eastward, into China.

Styan’s red panda is distinguished from the Western red panda by its longer winter coat and greater blackness of the pelage, bigger skull, more strongly curved forehead, and more robust teeth. This description is based on skulls and skins collected in Sichuan, Myitkyina close to the border of Yunnan, and Upper Burma. The Styan’s red panda is also supposedly larger and darker in color than the Western member of the species, but with considerable variation in both subspecies, and some individuals may be brown or yellowish brown rather than red.

Red pandas from the eastern sector of the range of the species may be somewhat larger and darker in color than those from western areas, but with considerable variation in both subspecies, and some individuals may be brown or yellowish brown rather than red. Eastern red pandas are distinguished from Western by longer winter coats and greater blackness of the pelage, bigger skulls, more strongly curved foreheads, and more robust teeth.

There is debate whether A. f. fulgens and A. f. styani should be considered separate species or subspecies of red panda.

A. f. fulgens (Western), A. f. styani (Eastern/Styan’s)


The common name panda was applied to the red panda when it was first presented to the western scientific community in 1821. Ailuropoda was designated the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) after its discovery in 1869 because of some affinities to Ailurus; subsequently the latter was relegated to lesser panda. The designation red panda is preferred in view of the chronological seniority of Ailurus in the scientific literature and the more accurate description given by this term.

Native names applied to the red panda include lesser panda, fire fox, bear cat, wah, ye, nigalya ponya, thokya, woker, sankam, and wokdonka.

The origin of the name panda is unknown.

Bear Cat, Eater of Bamboo, Fire-Colored Cat, Fire Fox, Lesser Panda, Petite Panda, Red Bear-Cat, Red Cat-Bear

The red panda is found between 2,200 and 4,800 meters in temperate forests of the Himalayas and high mountains of northern Burma and western Sichuan and Yunnan.

The confirmed western-most range of the red panda seems to be the Namlung Valley in Mugu District and the Lake Rara region of northwestern Nepal. The southern limit is the Liakiang Range of western Yunnan and the northern and eastern limit is the upper Min Valley of western Sichuan. The existence of red pandas in southwestern Tibet and northern Arunachal Pradesh is strongly suspected but has not been documented. A specimen exhibited in the Srinagar Museum in Kashmir reportedly was taken in Ladakh, eastern Kashmir; although this could not be confirmed, it would represent a substantial western expansion of the range.

The current distribution of the red panda suggests a radiation outward from a central core in the Burma-Yunnan-Sichuan highlands along regions of recent orogenic activity, most notably the Himalayas. The zone of highest density includes a region in western China proposed as a Pleistocene refugium for a variety of endemics.

As a result of human encroachment in suitable forest habitat and the unusual biology of bamboos, red pandas may be near extinction in the western sector of their range, especially in Nepal.

Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal

The red panda is found between 2,200 and 4,800 meters in temperate forests and high mountains. The distribution is associated closely with temperate montane forests with dense bamboo-thicket understories and mixed deciduous-coniferous forests dominated by Abies, Tsuga, Aesculus, Juglans, Quervus, and Acer.

Conifer and fir forests seem to be preferred by red pandas over oak mixed and mixed broad-leaf conifer forests. Habitats above the tree-line are probably not consistently occupied given that the red panda is essentially arboreal.

Temperate ranges in red panda habitat are from 10°Celsius to 25°Celsius at elevations from 3,000 to 3,750 meters. In the Himalayan region, there is considerable vertical climatic zonation caused by differences in rainfall and temperature, with the southern area receiving up to 350 centimeters of rainfall annually and the interiors somewhat drier with 130 centimeters annually. In western China, the mountain chains of Sichuan and Yunnan have a north-south orientation that traps westerly moisture-laden winds to produce abundant rainfall and thick, deciduous and evergreen forest.

The red panda is selective in forest used with regard to level of annual rainfall, percentage canopy cover, and density of bamboo. In addition, the red panda is usually found near water-courses and in areas with many tree stumps, and apparently prefers medium-gradient or shallower, north-facing slopes.

In general, all of these vegetational and climatic zones provide moist, well-drained soil suitable for bamboo growth, the dietary staple of the red panda.

Subtropical/Tropical Moist Montane
Subtropical/Tropical High Altitude



Captive red pandas are nocturnal and crepuscular and exhibit a polyphasic activity pattern throughout the night. Activity patterns change throughout the year in response to temperature, feeding regimes, and presence of young. In the wild, red pandas are reported to be most active at dawn, dusk, and at night.

Red pandas are scansorial, but forage primarily on the ground. The usual mode of progression on the ground is by a cross-extension gait; faster movement is by trotting or bounding. A similar cross-extension pattern is used to climb tree trunks, and animals descend head first by gripping the tree trunk medially with the hindfeet. Movement on and between small terminal branches is facilitated by a high degree of flexibility of the pectoral and pelvic girdles and limb joints.

Red pandas rest and sleep in trees or other elevated surfaces most frequently, and in nature are said to use evergreens as nest sites. Sleeping and resting postures range from prone extension with legs straddling a branch to a tightly curled posture with the head tucked under a hindleg. Temperature and humidity influence the posture adopted, presumably to alter heat conductance. Animals maintain a tightly curled posture during cold weather but stretch their bodies along branches with their legs dangling during hot weather.

Adults rarely sleep in contact with one another; however, a mother and her young and nest-bound siblings in the absence of their mother do so frequently.

Prolonged association of both parents with young and apparent tolerance of mixed-sex groups in captivity has led to speculation that the red panda may be gregarious in nature. Even when individuals are housed together, however, they maintain individual sleeping and resting loci and use a variety of visual displays in maintaining individual distances.

In the wild, adult red pandas are thought to be solitary outside the breeding season and rarely interact with one another, making aggression rare.

In captivity, male red pandas can be left with females year-round, but females left together in the same enclosure may steal or kill the young of others. The ideal social grouping is a mated pair and their dependent offspring, although a male and two females can be maintained together during the breeding season.

Red panda home-range size and population density are not known; however, other similar-sized carnivores have relatively small home ranges and high population densities.

Red panda territories are well posted by scent-marking. A series of small pores from which appear small amounts of clear, colorless, and odorless fluid occurs on the plantar surface of the feet. These pores may secrete substances that are used in depositing scent trails. Urine and secretions originating from the anogenital region may be other sources of scent. Adults of both sexes possess paired anal glands, each approximately 2 centimeters long and 1 centimeter in diameter, located bilaterally adjacent to the anal opening. Short ducts lead from the glands and empty into the distal portion of the rectum about 2 centimeters from the anal opening or anal sphincter. The content of the glands is a dark green-black, iridescent, oily fluid with a very pungent odor.

The vocal repertoire of the red panda is small, but there is considerable variability within certain call types. Tonal calls include an infant distress wheet, which may persist in the adult as a squeal under conditions of great duress, and a high-pitched, modulated-frequency twitter heard as a contact call in young and adults. A harsh, broad band, polysyllabic quack-snort is emitted by young and adults under conditions ranging from mild annoyance to intense aggression. Non-vocal sounds of communicatory function include exhalation of air through the nose and mouth, (puffing,) while raising and lowering the head during mild threat displays, and jaw-clapping while turning the head towards a nearby individual during a low intensity aggressive encounter. Grunts and snorts are also produced by animals engaged in wrestling or fighting. Structural homologies and functional similarities were found between some vocalizations of the red panda and those of the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) and Procyonidae.

Crepuscular, Nocturnal
Altitudinal Migrant


Because a diet high in fiber is essential to prevent gastrointestinal disorders, bamboo is the dietary staple of the red panda and makes up 98% of its diet. The genera of bamboos most likely to form the bulk of the diet are PhyllostachysSinarundinariaThamnocalamusChimonobambusa, and Qiongzhuea.

Native or cultivated grasses are also preferred.

In addition to bamboo, red pandas in the wild may eat small mammals, birds, eggs, blossoms, and berries.

In captivity, red pandas were observed to eat birds, blossoms, Acer and Morus leaves, bark, and the fruits of AcerFagus, and Morus.



In captivity, red panda mating is strictly seasonal with onset in the early winter, usually between early January and mid-March. The onset of sexual activity coincides closely with increasing photoperiod following the winter solstice. The mating season for individuals in captivity in the northern hemisphere seems not to differ substantially from that in the wild, although there may be a tendency for prolongation of the mating season in captive colonies. Captive individuals in the southern hemisphere mate in the austral winter, generally in July and August. A hierarchy of environmental cues trigger reproduction in captivity; photoperiod is a general cue and lunar periodicity is a more specific cue, with copulations tending to cluster during the new moon phase of the lunar cycle.

Testis size in captive male red pandas undergoes seasonal change, being small and semi-abdominal from April to November and large and scrotal during the premating and mating period in the northern hemisphere.

In the wild, births occur in spring and summer, but mainly in June. In captivity in the northern hemisphere, 3.5% of 199 litters were born in May, 79% in June, 16% in July, and 1.5% in August. Of 11 litters born in the southern hemisphere, 8 were in December, 2 in January, and 1 in March. In captivity, no synchrony of mating or birth dates is evident among females housed in the same or nearby enclosures. The time of mating and birth is also not affected by latitude, (within a hemisphere,) or by altitude. Females tend to give birth within 10 days of the date of parturition the previous year.

Several days before parturition, a pregnant red panda female begins to carry nest materials, such as sticks, grasses, and leaves into suitable nest sites. In the wild, red pandas may use hollow trees, evergreens, or rock crevices as nest sites, but in captivity, females readily adopt nest boxes placed on the ground, hollow logs, or other artificial dens. Nest building may continue after the young are born, but the behavior is highly variable among females. Mothers move their young frequently, presumably in response to nest disturbance; all active nest sites are kept clean by the mother.

The mean of 17 reported red panda gestations in captivity was 134.2 days (SD = 14.7 days; range, 112 to 158 days.) There was one reported gestation of 90 days provided by Dr. Vevers of the Zoological Society of London, however, the derivation of this measurement was not stated; therefore, it likely was erroneous. Litter size does not affect gestation length. The exceptional length and range of gestations suggests that delayed implantation may occur although this has not been demonstrated.

In captivity, red panda litter size ranges from one to four with a mode of two. Litters of two and three young have the lowest juvenile mortality. Survivorship of the young is independent of maternal age and experience. Generally, mortality in red pandas is higher in males and increases significantly with higher inbreeding coefficients. The sex ratio in a sample of 100 infants born in 78 litters was 48 males to 52 females.

At birth, the eyes and ears of the red panda are closed, and head, body, and tail are covered with thick, woolly, gray-buff fur approximately 25 millimeters long. The skin is pink, plantar surfaces of the feet are unfurred, mystaceal vibrissae are about 20 millimeters long, and the pelage lacks adult coloration and markings. The tail is proportionately shorter in young than in adults, averaging about 70 millimeters or 25% of the total length in contrast to about 40% of the total length in adults. Total length is about 280 millimeters and weigth is 110 to 130 grams.

All known births occur between 1600 and 0900 h, the period of highest activity. Parturition occurs rapidly, with females quickly cleaning the cubs and remaining with them for 60-90% of the time during the first few days after birth. For the first 7 to 10 days after birth, young remain essentially immobile, except when nursing. The mother remains curled around them, when in the nest, and, in her absence, the young sleep in a curled or semi-curled position, often in contact with one another.

After the cubs are about 1 week old, the females gradually spend more time away from them, returning every few hours to nurse and groom them. Gradually, the young become more active and move about in an uncoordinated fashion. They are able to right themselves when placed on their back by day 12. By day 14, long reddish guard hairs appear giving a slightly reddish tinge. By day 18, the eyes and ears are open and the young are able to orient toward light. Premolars, both upper and lower, first appear at about 30 days and complete dentition appears by 6 months. Adult coloration and coat pattern are discernable at about day 50; the tail is ringed, the face white with a dark track from the eye to the corner of the mouth, and the soles of the feet are fully furred. Adult coloration and patterning essentially are complete by day 70. By day 60, siblings are engaging in rough and tumble play in the nest and frequently venture to the entrance.

Young are nest-bound for approximately 90 days, after which, they make their first excursions from the nest at night. They are able to climb proficiently by this time. At first, mothers attempt to restrain cubs from emerging, but cubs soon become too active to monitor closely. Initial excursions from the nest coincide with the first evidence of the young eating solid food. By 120 days of age, young consistently rest away from the nest area with their mother. Mother-young proximity continues to be close until the onset of the next breading season when mild aggression between the mother and young may occur.

There are few red panda parental interactions until the young are weaned. In captivity, some males were observed to enter nest boxes and even sleep with young for short periods. There is no provisioning of the young, however, by either parent at any time. After young emerge from the nest, males may engage in play with them.

There is no data on juvenile red panda dispersal patterns.

Young red pandas attain adult size and mass at approximately 12 months and are sexually mature at approximately 18 months. Individuals of both sexes have reproduced up to 12 years of age.

Jnauary-March, July-August
Maternal, Paternal
90-158 Days
May-August, December-March
18 Days
18 Days
3 Months
18 Months

The red panda seems to have little commercial value and is of little economic importance in live animal and fur trades, but still faces threats by humans.

Red panda is taken for various purposes including wild meat, medicine, pelts, and pets.

Levels of offtake are not well documented; nor are trends in offtake or geographical patterns of harvest and use.

It has been suggested that the rising numbers in the internet pet trade in China are captive-bred, but this remains to be confirmed.

Reports of red panda poaching and smuggling seem to be increasing, perhaps through demand in China. Red panda carcases and skins have been spotted in villagers’ homes in eastern Myanmar. One hunter was witnessed catching a red panda with his hands; apparently these villagers regularly take red pandas. Wildlife trade is rampant in Myanmar, (about 30 tons of wildlife products per month,) facilitated by wildlife habitat proximity to the Chinese border. Before the red panda was upgraded to Appendix I of CITES, (Convention on the International Trade in Threatened and Endangered Species,) in the early 1990s, individuals captured in Myanmar were traded by China to zoos around the world.

Local, National, International
National, International
Local, National
Local, National



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The red panda was estimated to be more common in the eastern part of its range, especially along the Myanmar-Yunnan border, yet it cannot be considered a common species.

There have been four undertakings to estimate, per country, the area of occupied habitat and from this the approximate red panda population. These show very little concordance and whilst some differences might reflect real change between earlier and later assessments, most must stem from differing assumptions and techniques. The Population and Habitat Viability Analyses figures are taken as the most realistic guides, although none has been corrected for suitability of gross area of broadly suitable habitat accounting for specific preferences.

The red panda’s selective preferences would ideally all be taken into account when estimating area of potential habitat. In combination, these factors will make the area occupied at average to high densities substantially below that of potential habitat. For example, taking into account forest type, altitude, precipitation and slope aspect, it’s estimated that only 68 square kilometers of the 1,719 square kilometers Langtang National Park to comprise suitable red panda habitat.

Regardless of the uncertainty of actual area occupied, increases in human population and the continuing spread of human activity has driven habitat loss and degradation since the 2001 assessment of Choudhury.


Each of the three recent Population and Habitat Viability Analyses (PHVAs) listed the threats to the red panda assessed to be most prevalent in their country/countries.

Several problems occur throughout the species range, albeit with some variation in assessed impact. The major threats are habitat loss and fragmentation, habitat degradation, and physical threats. These are all compounded by the region’s increasing human population, climate change, natural disasters, inadequate enforcement of laws and regulations, mostly low political will and interest, political instability in some regions, low coordination of stakeholders, funding, and human resources, trans-boundary issues facilitating poaching, illegal collection of non-timber forest products, and red panda trade of skins and other body parts, and the movement of cattle herders and grazers during the breeding season.

Natural disasters include cyclones, landslides, floods, heavy snowfall and rainfall, bamboo flowering which results in the death of the plant and typically occurs synchronously across large areas, forest fires, poor regeneration of shelter trees, weed infestation and invasive alien species, and disease outbreaks. Although most of these have been in operation throughout the red panda’s existence, their effects are increasingly severe as an ever-larger proportion of the distribution is outside contiguous habitat blocks large enough for recolonization to occur post-disaster.

In some areas, habitat is lost and degraded by commercial logging. In the Emaw Bum region of Myanmar more than 5,000 square kilometers have been logged since 1999–2000, resulting in many new roads into mountain areas, such as between the May Hka river and the China border. These logging roads not only destroy habitat directly, they also facilitate access for hunters and can destabilize the substrate. A recent video report from FFI shows two young red pandas crossing a landslide, the result of foreign road-building in the area.

As human populations grow, more people move into mountain regions to live. They clear land for habitation, bring domestic herds to roam in the forests where they trample, and eat bamboo. Herders collect bamboo for fodder and other necessities.

The herds are protected by dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) that attack pandas and, if not vaccinated, potentially carry canine distemper, fatal to the red panda. The lack of annual vaccination in India, at least, leads to a high incidence of canine distemper in dogs of one to five years of age. Spillover of canine distemper into wild species is already well documented, such as to Bengal fox (Vulpes bengalensis) and tiger (Panthera tigris).

Housing & Urban Areas, Commercial & Industrial Areas, Tourism & Recreation Areas
Annual & Perennial Non-Timber Crops, Wood & Pulp Plantations, Livestock Farming & Ranching
Mining & Quarrying
Roads & Railroads
Hunting & Trapping Terrestrial Animals, Gathering Terrestrial Plants, Logging & Wood Harvesting
Recreational Activities, Work & Other Activities
Fire & Fire Suppression
Problematic Native Species/Diseases
Earthquakes/Tsunamis, Avalanches/Landslides
Habitat Shifting & Alteration

The red panda is protected in India, Bhutan, Nepal, and China.

Because of its scarcity and unknown habits in the wild, an intensive international breeding program was established for the red panda in more than 30 zoos, and an International Studbook, edited by A. R. Glatston in 1982, documents management techniques, growth in captive populations, and pathology reports. Based on International Studbook summaries, numbers of red pandas in captivity increased from 136 in 1980, to 147 in 1981, and to 197 in 1982.

Improved longevity and reproduction are effected by larger enclosures, removal from extreme heat and humidity, and a diet high in fiber and bulk, mainly bamboo and native or cultivated grasses, to prevent gastrointestinal disorders. In captivity, animals are maintained most successfully in outdoor enclosures with a natural, grassy substrate, living trees for climbing and perching, and sufficient shade to allow the animals to retreat from the heat of the summer. The ideal social grouping is a mated pair and their dependent offspring, although a male and two females can be maintained together during the breeding season.


Red Panda

Native names applied to the red panda include lesser panda, fire fox, bear cat, wah, ye, nigalya ponya, thokya, woker, sankam, and wokdonka.

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