Lee Richardson Zoo

Red Panda

A.K.A.  Lesser panda, shining panda, red cat bear, fire fox, wah (from a cry they make), Himalayan raccoon.

Order: Carnivora - Felines, canines, bears, seals, mustelids, raccoons, etc.
Family: Ailuridae – Red Panda

Scientific Name:  Ailurus fulgens fulgens


Description:  The red panda is the size of a large house cat, 12 lbs.  The body measures about 2 ft. long.  The bushy, ringed tail is about 18 in.  long.  Upper parts of the body are rusty to deep chestnut, darkest down the middle of the back.  Has small dark eye patches.  Muzzle, lips, cheeks and edges of ears are white.  Back of ears, legs and underparts are dark reddish brown to black.  Head is round and ears are large.  Feet have thickly furred pads like small, white soled “mukluks”.  They have tiny, fleshy projections in a cluster on the tip of the lower side of the tongue that are used for tasting.  They also have a small pit in their mouth called the Jacobsen organ, which aids their sense of smell. Located just behind the upper incisor teeth, it is lined with receptor cells, and connected by a small duct to the nasal passages.  Like the giant panda (which is classified with the bear family - ie. not presently thought to be related), the red panda has an extra “thumb” on both of its forepaws to help it grasp bamboo.


Home Range:  From Nepal to northern Burma, 
and into central China.


Habitat Type:  Mountain forest, climate stays cool and wet all year. Snow remains on the ground 9 months of the year.  Rain soaks the area the rest of the year.  In the summer they stay on the higher slopes. They move down to the valleys in winter. 


Reproductive Habits:  Females have one estrus annually and are receptive for only 18 - 24 hours.  Mate mid-January to early March.  Gestation is 114 - 145 days. (This variance may suggest delayed implantation in tropical, but not in temperate, zones.)  6 weeks before birth, the female builds a nest of sticks, grass and leaves in a low, hollow tree or rock crevice. 1 or 2 cubs are born in a litter (rarely 3 - 4).  Mother and cubs rely much on scent recognition.  Cubs weigh 2 grams at 1 week of age, open their eyes after 17 -18 days, attain full adult coloration by 90 days, and take solid food at 125 - 135 days.  Because of the low nutrient diet of bamboo, the female increases the amount of bamboo consumed by gorging on leaves.  This poor diet results in low- volume and low-nutrient quality milk.  Consequently the cubs have a slow rate of development.  The male does not become involved with the cubs. Adult size is reached at 12 months and they are sexually mature at 18 months.


Diet in Wild:  Forage on the ground for bamboo leaves and shoots primarily.  Also eat fruits, grubs, grasses and occasionally small animals.


Diet in Zoo:  High protein leaf eater diet, apples, bananas, and bamboo.


General Info:  Discovered in 1825, it was the only panda known in the west for more than 50 years.  The scientific name comes from the Greek words ailouros (meaning cat) because of its resemblance to a cat, and fulgens, meaning bright colors.  Solitary, but will tolerate pairs in zoos.  A shy animal, rarely seen.  Nocturnal; communicate by scent; mark rocks, logs, base of trees.  They spend days in trees, but much of their nighttime waking hours foraging on the forest floor.  On warm days they stretch out with their belly on a branch, legs dangling.  On cold days they curl up tightly on a branch.  Their color is cryptic, resembling clumps of reddish brown moss and white lichens found on the branches of fir trees within their range. 

They are superb climbers.  A special rotating ankle joint enables them to descend trees head first like a squirrel, allowing them to hit the ground running.  Can jump 5 feet from branch to branch, but avoid doing so if they can climb to where they are going.  They do not like to wade or get wet.  The tail is used as a pad or to cover the face.  Drinks by inserting its lips and sucking, generally does not lap.  Washes self in a cat-like manner.  Food is skillfully seized with hands and eaten bit by bit while sitting upright.  Soupy food is eaten by dipping the hand and licking it off.  They do not hibernate or put on body fat for winter.  Bamboo is a constant year round food source.  The red panda can subsist on this low nutrient diet because they have a low basal metabolism. 


Their range is greatly diminished from the original.  In Nepal and China they compete with humans for space.  Habitat is destroyed as forests are cut down, and as agriculture and grazing push higher up the mountain slopes.  Habitat destruction causes streams to run intermittently making conditions unfavorable for bamboo.  Fragmentation of forests isolates animals, causing inbreeding and a higher mortality in cubs.  Hunted in the past, in Nepal, the fur was used to make caps.  The Chinese used the tail as a duster or brush.  They were captured in small numbers for sale in the pet trade.  Listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List and Appendix l of CITES.  Zoos manage captive populations through a Species Survival Plan (SSP).  



Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia.  Vol. 12. Dr. H. C. Bernhard Grzimek.  Van Nostrand Reinhold Co.  New York, NY.  pp. 110 - 113.


National Geographic Book of Mammals.  Vol. ll  K - Z.  1991.  National Geographic Society.  Washington, D. C.  pp. 428 - 431. 


Red Pandas, A Natural History.   1988.  Dorcas McClintock.  Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, NY.  pp. 1 - 93.


Walkers Mammals of the World.    Vol. ll.  Ronald M. Nowak.  The Johns Hopkins University and London.  1991.  pp. 1097 - 1098.


Wildlife Fact File.  Group 1:  Mammals.  Red Panda  card #122.  1991.