The lesser red panda is a real miracle of nature. She is so sweet and attractive that it is impossible to take your eyes off this animal. This adorable is a predator, although, mainly, it is herbivorous. Thanks to her chic bright fur coat, perky character and stunning appearance, she can rightly be called a coquette, once you see which, you cannot remain indifferent.
Origin of the species and description
The Chinese knew about the existence of this animal in the distant 13th century and called it a fiery fox. In Europe, the little panda met only in the 19th century. The English general, and part-time naturalist Thomas Hardwick, discovered this amazing species, but before he had time to document this fact, the Frenchman Cuvier was ahead of him, who gave this animal the name Ailurus fulgens, which is translated from Latin as “shining cat”.
Hardwick was very dissatisfied, but as they say: “Who had time – he ate it.” Therefore, the Frenchman became the discoverer of the animal, although this is not very fair. There are other names for this interesting predator, it is also called a cat bear. The name panda was assigned to him, thanks to the Nepalese, who called him “punya”.
Video: Lesser red panda
By doing all sorts of analyzes, paleontologists have found that the small and giant pandas have very distant family ties. You could even say that they are united only by the name. Scientists believe that their common ancestor inhabited the Earth millions of years ago and was an inhabitant of Eurasia, and the fossil remains of the little panda were found in vast territories extending from east China to the islands of Britain. Scientists have long doubted which family the red panda belongs to.
They tried to attribute the panda:
- to bears;
- to raccoons;
- leave as separate family.
Both the habits and the appearance of this animal led to disputes and disagreements. On the one hand, the red panda moves like a bear, waddling slightly. She also, like the clubfoot, sits on her hind legs, and owns her front legs very well. On the other hand, the appearance of this animal is very similar to the striped raccoon. They have a similar structure of the bones of the skull, jaws and tail, although DNA examination indicates a relationship with bears.
So, after all the genetic analyzes, it was decided to include the small panda in a separate family isolated from the raccoons, although many zoologists insist that the red panda belongs specifically to the raccoons. The lesser red panda belongs to the predatory mammals of the panda family, the suborder is canids.
Two varieties of lesser pandas can be distinguished:
- Stayana's lesser panda, inhabiting the northern part of Myanmar and southern China ;
- western red panda inhabiting the Himalayas (Nepal and Bhutan).
These two subspecies are slightly different in color and size (the first is slightly darker and larger), although this difference in coloring cannot be called significant, because even among the same subspecies, the color of red pandas may vary slightly.
Appearance and Features
The appearance of the small red panda is so charming that she wants to admire again and again. Its dimensions are comparable to the dimensions of a very well-fed manul cat. The red panda weighs from 4 to 6 kg, body length varies from half a meter to 64 cm, not counting the chic tail, which is almost the same length as the size of the body and reaches half a meter. In appearance it is impossible to distinguish who is in front of you: a female or a male, they are the same. The body of the red panda is slightly elongated, like that of the mustelid family.
The head is large, wide with a pointed muzzle. The ears of a panda resemble those of a cat. The panda's eyes are small and black. The rich fluffy tail is decorated with transverse stripes of a lighter tone, the tail tassel is black.
The paws of the “fire fox” are stocky, short, powerful with sharp and hook-shaped claws that help to deftly conquer any trees. The base of the feet is wool, which is very comfortable when walking on snowdrifts and ice. In addition to the usual five fingers, the sixth is located a little higher on the paw, it helps to hold bamboo branches.
The fur coat of the red panda and its coloring can be envied, it is so magnificent that you can’t take your eyes off it! The coat of the animal is very soft, silky, thick and rather long, so the figure looks plump. The coloration of the animals is very unusual: the back is painted either chocolate-red or fiery red. The abdomen is brown with reddish streaks or completely black. The tips of the hair on the back are yellow, the paws of the red panda are fluffy, black, shimmering.
The muzzle and ears stand out in contrast against the red head, thanks to the white color. Near the eyes there is something like a mask, like a raccoon. The tip of the panda's nose is black. The tail of the red panda is also red with a dozen rings of a lighter color.
It would seem, why does the animal need such a bright and eye-catching color? The answer is simple – it's all about the area where the animal lives. Most of the time, the red panda is on trees that are covered with all sorts of lichens and red mosses, so in such an environment, the coloring of the panda does not seem defiant, but, on the contrary, helps it to disguise itself well.
Where does the red panda live?
The red panda's habitat is limited and not at all extensive. They live in such provinces of China as Yunnan and Sichuan, in Myanmar, Bhutan and Nepal, they live in the northeastern part of India. The homeland of the little panda is the southeast of the Himalayas, where animals conquer heights reaching up to 4 km.
The habitat of the panda's ancestors was much wider, ancient remains were found both in the east of Europe and in the territory of Northern Europe. America.
Scientists put forward hypotheses that the area of red panda settlement has decreased due to changes in climatic conditions familiar to animals. It is known that they like moderate temperatures – from 10 to 25 degrees above zero.
The small red panda takes a fancy to both coniferous and mixed forests. Fir, oaks, chestnuts and maples are the usual trees that grow in the habitats of the animal. Deciduous plants protect the lower tier, consisting of bamboo shoots, which the red panda loves so much. The humidity in such forests is quite intense, so lichens and mosses thrive, covering trees and stony soil.
In such forests, the panda is perfectly camouflaged, because these mosses and lichens have a red color to match its fur coat. The shelter and dwelling for pandas are hollows located in trees. The population density of animals is rather small. On an area of 2.4 sq. km you can meet only one individual of the red panda, sometimes even worse – one animal per 11 square meters. km.
What does the red panda eat?
Many people wonder why the red panda is considered a predator if it, for the most part, consumes plant foods? The answer lies on the surface. Predators are considered as such not only because of their diet, but because of all the adaptations they have for prey and feeding on animal food. These include: the presence of 38 teeth, a short intestine, a simple stomach. This is the digestive system inherent in predatory animals, including the red panda.
Most of the animal's diet consists of bamboo leaves and young shoots, only five percent of the total norm falls on all kinds of fruits, vegetables, berries, bird eggs and small rodents. To a greater extent, the panda acquires predatory habits closer to winter, when it switches to animal food, catching small rodents and looking for insects.
During the warm period, bamboo is a favorite delicacy. Its low calorie content is covered by significant volumes that reach up to 4 kg per day – these are only shoots, you should add another one and a half kilograms of leaves to them.
So, the main menu of the little panda includes:
- bamboo shoots and leaves;
- young grass and lichens;
- all kinds of fruits and roots;
- acorns and berries;
The molars of the red panda have small tubercles that help to cope with hard plant shoots, finely grinding them. Very interesting is the fact that tamed red pandas do not eat meat at all, arbitrarily refusing it. Even live chickens are simply killed by predators (and even then not always), but they are not eaten. It may seem funny that a captive red panda loves sweetened rice porridge boiled with milk.
When animals lack food, their activity is greatly reduced, which is detrimental to them. To reduce this negative impact, the “fire foxes” have learned to regulate their own metabolism, switching to energy saving mode when necessary (usually in winter). They can curl into a tight ball, resembling a large fur ball.
Character and lifestyle features
The small red panda leads a rather secluded, secretive lifestyle, where activity is manifested only at twilight hours, and during the day the animal gets enough sleep in its hollow or just on a tree. Red pandas are real dormice who sleep at least 11 hours a day. In the cool season, the animals curl up, covering their heads with a fluffy tail, like a blanket.
It has been observed that pandas sometimes fall asleep sitting up with their head resting on their chest, a position that raccoons usually rest in. In the hot period, the panda stretches on a branch, and its paws hang down. Upon awakening, the animals stretch sweetly and, like cats, begin to wash themselves with their tongue and paws. Then scratch the back and abdomen by rubbing against the trunk of a tree. The panda repeats all these procedures after the meal.
If among the trees the panda masterfully controls his body and moves quickly and gracefully, then on the ground he looks a little awkward and uncertain. The panda climbs from branch to branch without any problems or hesitation, its large tail serves to balance it. In the event of a threat, the panda tends to hide in the crown of trees. Nevertheless, she always has to walk on the ground in search of food, which she interestingly takes with her front paw and sends directly into her mouth.
She can eat while sitting, lying down, and standing. When threatened, you can hear some puffing, sometimes whistling, which the panda produces. She, like a cat, bends her back in an arc to frighten off the enemy. In general, these are peaceful, non-bullying animals, so they are easily tamed. When no danger is seen on the horizon, the panda can chirp like a bird, making short cries.
Lesser pandas prefer to live in complete solitude, converging only during the mating season. In females, the habitat reaches 2.5 square meters. km, in males – up to 5 square meters. km. The boundaries of each property are marked with odorous marks, which are left by both the paws of the animal and the anal glands. Litter and urine also serve as marks by which pandas, without seeing each other, can understand the age, gender, body condition of their neighbor.
Despite the fact that red pandas live alone (one at a time), they are still very perky and playful, have a cheerful disposition. This can be seen in the games that grown-up cubs play with each other. They fluff their tails in an interesting way, rise on their hind legs, jokingly attacking an opponent, biting him lightly, but without bringing pain and discomfort.
This picture can also be observed among adult animals kept together in captivity. The tamed red panda is not afraid of a person either, she also provocatively caresses him, involving him in her game.
Social structure and reproduction
Red pandas are considered sexually mature at the age of approximately one and a half years. The mating season for these interesting animals begins in January. This period is accompanied by interesting flirting and courtship. Males leave marks everywhere, and females signal that they are ready for fertilization.
The active phase in females lasts only a day, so these animals have absolutely no time for long-term courtship. Despite the fact that under normal conditions the panda is very shy and unsociable, during the mating season she feels great in the company of her boyfriend. Usually, at this time, pandas make all kinds of sounds that attract individuals of the opposite sex: they whistle, chirp, hiss, arching their backs in an interesting way.
The gestation period lasts from 114 to 145 days, but the embryos do not begin to develop immediately and continue for 50 days. Future mothers themselves begin preparations for the appearance of offspring, the male leaves immediately after the mating games. Females look for a suitable hollow, lining it with foliage, branches and grass. Usually, from 1 to 4 babies are born, which weigh about 100 grams, do not see anything and are completely helpless. The fur of the children is light gray.
The cubs have a rather slow period of development. Only on the 21st day do they begin to see clearly, and at the age of three months they leave their home for the first time, making nightly sorties. Mom panda constantly licks them, thereby putting her marks on them. For the first week of her life, she does not leave them, then she goes in search of food, coming only at the time of feeding the children. The little panda treats children with milk for up to five months, then it begins to wean them from it.
Cubs have a very great affection for their mother, but they do not know their father at all. They live with their mother until about one year old, then leave her, and she begins preparing for the next mating, becoming very irritable during this period.
At one year old, young pandas are not inferior in size to adults, but they become mature much later (closer to a year and a half and later).
Red pandas' natural enemies
Under natural conditions, the small red panda does not have so many enemies. It is not easy to catch it, and the animal is quite rare. The small panda has to beware of snow leopards (irbis) and red wolves. Martens can also pose some danger. The probability of an attack every year is reduced to a minimum due to a decrease in populations of both the red panda and the snow leopard.
The panda escapes from large predators on trees, climbing them with extraordinary dexterity with the help of sharp curved claws. If it was not possible to quickly escape, on the ground the panda either rises to its full height on its hind legs, or arches in an arc to frighten off the enemy. In addition, it emits a specific musky smell. Some argue that when there is a strong danger, the panda makes heart-rending exclamations, although this has not been established for certain.
The main source of danger for red pandas is a person who cuts down forests and engages in poaching, destroying the already small population of these amazing animals.
Population and species status
The small red panda is listed in the International Red Book, its population is under threat of extinction. For 18 years, it has decreased almost in half, it is very sad. Scientists predict a further decline in the number of these animals.
Such a disappointing trend is not only due to the fact that very few panda cubs are born (usually one, less often two, very rarely three or four), but also due to barbaric deforestation and illegal hunting. In India, hunting for these rare animals is generally not prohibited. In China, caps and other clothes are sewn from the chic fur of a small panda. Even panda meat is eaten, neutralizing its specific smell.
Red panda conservation
In wealthy homes, the red panda is kept as a pet, which is bought from poachers. Unfortunately, keeping such a pet is very difficult, he needs a special diet, so most often the red panda dies at home.
A comforting moment in such a deplorable situation is that the red panda adapts perfectly to life in zoos, where it actively breeds. According to some reports, about 350 red pandas live in various nurseries and zoos, and the same number have been born. People should think about their activities that are detrimental to animals and start reviving the population of these charming creatures.
The amazing beauty of the small red panda has won many people's hearts around the world, thanks to its extraordinary and overly attractive appearance, which makes us touch and break into a smile. We should be aware that this is not a toy at all, and we need to treat the animal with respect and care so that it feels safe, and its numbers began to increase not only in captivity, but also in the wild.