The red panda is a mammal native to the eastern Himalayas and southwestern China.
Despite sharing a name, red pandas are not closely related to giant pandas. However, like giant pandas, they are bamboo eaters native to the high forests of Asia.
The red panda has reddish-brown fur, a long, shaggy tail, and a waddling gait due to its shorter front legs.
Its reddish-brown coat color acts like camouflage in the canopy of fir trees where branches are covered with clumps of reddish-brown moss and white lichens.
The head and body length of a red panda measures 50 to 64 centimeters (20 to 25 inches), and its tail is 28 to 59 centimeters (11 to 23 inches).
Males weigh 3.7 to 6.2 kilograms (8.2 to 13.7 pounds) and females 3 to 6 kilograms (6.6 to 13.2 pounds).
The average lifespan of the red panda is 8-12 years in the wild but they can live up to 15 years in captivity.
They are shy and solitary except when mating.
They are crepuscular and nocturnal and usually sleep in trees during the day.
In significantly cold temperatures, red pandas can become dormant, lowering their metabolic rate and raising it every few hours to wake up and look for food. This adaptation has allowed them to spend almost as little energy as a sloth, which is exceptionally beneficial considering the low nutrition content of their diet.
Red pandas are generally quiet, but at close proximity subtle vocalizations such as squeals, twitters and huff-quacks can be heard. They may also hiss or grunt.
Like giant pandas, they have an extended wrist bone that functions almost like a thumb and greatly aids their grip. When descending a tree head-first, the red panda rotates its ankle to control its descent, one of the few climbing species to do so.
Claws are for climbing, of course, but this mild-mannered animal can defend its territory by standing on its hind legs and using those sharp claws to strike out if threatened. If that doesn’t work at keeping enemies at bay, the red panda can release a strong odor from scent glands at the base of the tail that may make a predator think twice about a red-panda meal.
Their face is predominantly white with reddish brown “tear tracks” extending from the eye to the corner of the mouth. These markings could have evolved to keep the sun out of their eyes.
Breeding season takes place from January through April. After a gestation period of 112 to 158 days, the female gives birth in mid-June to late July to one to four blind and deaf cubs. Only the mother cares for the young until they are weaned around 6-8 months of age. Cubs stay with their mothers until the next cubs are born the following summer or until they are approximately 1 year old.
Fully grown red pandas are preyed on by clouded leopards and snow leopards, while smaller red panda cubs are hunted by hawks, owls and other birds. The main predators of red pandas are humans, which sometimes still hunt red pandas for their skins and furs, but also threaten their existence through the destruction of their habitats.
The species has been classified as endangered in the IUCN Red List since 2008.
The red panda is the only living species of the genus Ailurus and the family Ailuridae. It has been previously placed in the raccoon and bear families, but the results of phylogenetic research provide strong support for its taxonomic classification in its own family Ailuridae, which along with the weasel, raccoon and skunk families is part of the superfamily Musteloidea.
The first known written record of the red panda occurred in a 13th-century Chinese scroll.
The red panda is also known by a number of different names in their native regions including the lesser panda, the red cat-bear and as the fire fox in Nepal.
The name of the Firefox web browser is said to have been derived from a nickname of the red panda.
The red panda is quite adaptable to living in captivity, and is common in zoos worldwide.
The most often cited example of keeping red pandas as pets is by Indira Gandhi. Pandas were presented to Gandhi’s family as a gift and they were then housed in “a special tree house”.
In one study, female red pandas ate approximately 20,000 bamboo leaves in a single day.
Like raccoons, red pandas dip their paws into water when needing a drink.