Red pandas are mostly related to mustelids ( weasels, minks, etc) and raccoons, but also bears and pinnipeds (sea lions, otters, etc). They have reddish-brown fur, long, shaggy tails, upright ears, blackish eyes, and black noses. They also have thick fur, even on the soles of their feet, which offers thermal insulation. The head and body length of a red panda generally measures 20 to 25 inches, and their tails are about 12 to 20 inches long. They weigh between 12 – 20 pounds; they are around the size of a domestic cat. The average life span in the wild for a red panda is 8 years, but they live longer in captivity .
They are native to temperate forests at high altitudes in southwestern China and the eastern Himalayas , with temperatures of 10 – 25° C.
Red pandas are mostly herbivores. The majority of their diet is bamboo, but they also consume fruits, roots, insects, and eggs, among other things. Like giant pandas, they mostly just eat and sleep due to their low calorie diet. Bamboo makes up 85 to 95 percent of their diet, according to the National Zoo. They have to consume about 2-4 pounds of bamboo a day, since they can only digest about 24 percent of the bamboo they eat. According to the San Diego Zoo, female red pandas consume about 20,000 bamboo leaves a day. And here’s a fun fact: red pandas are the only non – primates that can taste artificial sweeteners.
They are solitary, arboreal, and crepuscular. Their preferred temperature is between 17 and 25° C, and they cannot tolerate temperatures over 25° C. When they are overheated, they stretch out on branches and pant to lower their body temperature. When they are cold, they wrap themselves in their bushy tails. Sometimes, in very cold temperatures, they lower their metabolic rate and enter short dormant periods that last a few hours. When they wake up they search for food.
Their predators include mustelids and snow leopards. When in danger, they try to escape by climbing trees or tall rock columns. Their red and white fur also aids them in camouflaging into birch tree branches, which are often covered in reddish brown moss. If that is unsuccessful, they will stand on their hind legs to give the illusion that they are larger than they really are, and as a final resort use their sharp claws on their front paws to defend themselves, like cats. They also groom themselves like cats. Their scientific name actually roughly translates into “shining cat”.
Red pandas use body-language to communicate, and also a variety of noises, such as squeals, whistles, hisses, and grunts.
Unfortunately, red pandas are an endangered species, and declining rapidly, with less than 10,000 adults in the wild , according to the San Diego Zoo. This is mostly due to habitat loss and poaching for fur.