Conservationists are satellite tracking red pandas in the mountains of Nepal to find out more about the factors that are driving them towards extinction.
Red pandas spend much of their time in the trees
The mammals are endangered, with numbers down to a few thousand in the eastern Himalayas and southwestern China.
Ten red pandas have been fitted with GPS collars to monitor their range in the forests near Mount Kangchenjunga.
The GPS collars are said to be working well and yielding “exciting data”.
The six females and four males are being tracked and photographed using camera traps in a conservation effort involving scientists, vets, government officials in Nepal and conservation group Red Panda Network.
“This is a great milestone in red panda conservation”, said Man Bahadur Khadka, director general of Nepal’s department of forests and soil conservation.
The 10 pandas have been named by local people as Paaru, Dolma, Chintapu, Mechhachha, Bhumo, Senehang, Ngima, Brian, Ninamma and Praladdevi.
The red panda (Ailurus fulgens) was initially considered a relative of the raccoon because of its ringed tail, and was later thought to be related to bears.
The species is now known to be in a family of its own and one of the most evolutionary distinct and globally endangered mammals in the world.
The loss of the forests that provide shelter and a supply of bamboo for food is a big problem for the red panda.
Conservationists in Nepal hope the study over the course of a year will give valuable data about how to better protect one of the last remaining populations.
The red panda
- The small mammals resemble bears but are in a genus of their own known as Ailurinae
- The wild population continues to decline due to habitat loss, poaching, and inbreeding
- Illegally hunted in southwest China, for its bushy tail, from which “good-luck charm” hats are made
- Lives in trees and mainly eats bamboo, using sharp, curved claws to grip the stems
- Not closely related to the giant panda
- Protected in all countries in which it lives, where hunting is illegal.