Programs that foster sustainable livelihoods and alleviate poverty among local communities are essential to saving red pandas in Nepal. Thanks to Nordens Ark, our impact will be bigger than ever with the Sustainable Living Center.
Situated on nearly 1,000 acres of historic land in Sweden, Nordens Ark has been working tirelessly to ensure endangered animals have a future both at home and abroad. Their strong focus on rear and release, conservation, public education, research, and training have benefited a wide range of species — from fast-flying peregrine falcons in the sky, all the way down to smaller invertebrate species such as beetles. Their holistic approach to conservation and stewardship for wildlife and resources makes them an exciting partner to work with!
Nordens Ark believes “that endangered species should attain viable populations in their natural environments and that biodiversity is preserved”. They are supporting an impressive variety of conservation projects benefiting a huge number of species in the wild including frogs, bees, and red pandas!
In addition to their dedication to preserving species and stabilizing their wild populations, Nordens Ark places a high priority on reducing their overall environmental impact in everything they do. These efforts can be seen across the organization; they are constantly looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint. Their Environmental Diploma with the Swedish Environmental Base, which they have held since 2010, also reflects their commitment to upholding a high standard of environmental management guidelines in their operations. With a dedication to saving species, their habitats, and ensuring sustainability for humans and the animals around us, Nordens Ark makes the perfect partner for The Red Panda Network’s Sustainable Living Center.
Both Nordens Ark and Red Panda Network (RPN) recognize the importance of how intricately sustainable use of the Earth’s resources and human actions impact wildlife and their habitats. The Sustainable Living Center, located in Taplejung, Nepal, will serve as a central location for locals to learn about topics such as sustainable energy use, herding, and organic farming. The overall goal of the center is to alleviate poverty and create a multitude of sustainable living opportunities for the local people. Nordens Ark’s contributions to the building of this center support the community, their families, and the animals and plants who call this rich biodiversity hotspot home.
Nordens Ark has exhibited red pandas in their public park since 1989 and has always actively participated as a member of the European breeding program, also known as the EAZA Ex-Situ Programme (EEP). In 2013, the red panda EEP invited all red panda holders to assist in red panda conservation by supporting RPN and the Forest Guardian (FG) program.
The FG program employs local people to monitor and protect red panda habitat and help educate the local communities on the importance of conservation and sustainability. The support for the FG program from several zoological facilities has provided sustainable income and experience in environmental stewardship for over 100 people! The Red Panda Network is also committed to recruiting female Forest Guardians and empowering women to stand up for gender inequality in Nepal.
“The Red Panda EEP is the largest of the regional breeding programmes and the idea was that if each zoo gave €250 per year, the EEP could support more than 20 Forest Guardians,” says Emma Nygren, the Head of Conservation Programmes at Nordens Ark. “We at Nordens Ark thought the Forest Guardian program was a great initiative and started supporting Red Panda Network efforts through the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) and the EEP."
Nordens Ark continued their support of this program for years but still felt that they wanted to do even more to help preserve red pandas and their habitat. They were in discussions with RPN regarding other projects they could help support when a great opportunity for funding presented itself via The Swedish Postcode Lottery.
The Swedish Postcode Lottery is Sweden’s largest lottery, with the objective of generating money for organizations in the nonprofit sector and creating a better world. They put out a call for grants to supply funding to qualifying projects, and Nordens Ark was quick to jump on the opportunity. “The grant criteria were a perfect fit to apply for the construction of the Sustainable Living Center. We were of course thrilled that we were successful with our application and are really proud to be a partner to The Red Panda Network on this amazing project.” Emma says.
With the funding and support of Nordens Ark — totaling $377,000 over a three-year period — RPN was able to start construction of the Sustainable Living Center in 2019. The expected completion of the project is sometime later this year, and like all RPN initiatives, the goal is for the Sustainable Living Center to be self-sustaining and locally operated down the road. The Center will serve as a hub for conservation, education, and sustainability, while also increasing the annual income of over 2,000 local families.
Red Panda Network is thrilled to watch this long-time dream of the organization come to fruition, and incredibly grateful for the support of Nordens Ark on this project as well as other key initiatives supporting red pandas, their habitats, and the communities who live alongside them.
Writing and Communications Volunteer
Red Panda Network
From household chores to entrepreneurship, women in rural Nepal find economic empowerment and environmental stewardship.
Gaura Neupane grew up in a small village in Kalikot district, western Nepal. This is a remote and rural place; a patchwork of agriculture and mountain forests make up the landscape.
The setting of this story is significant. Western Nepal constitutes more than half of the nation’s habitat available to red pandas, most of which is unprotected. For people, it is a place where poverty debilitates daily life while limiting opportunities for a better future. For women living here, gender stereotypes and inequalities are prevalent and deeply rooted; where a woman's voice and passion is often stifled.
As a child, Gaura was the second of eight siblings. She was married when she was only 15 years old.
Like other women in rural Nepal, Gaura’s life has been restricted by oppressive norms that say women can’t perform the same tasks and have the same responsibilities as men. Their role is often confined to household chores and child-rearing and women are often not involved in family or community decision-making.
Now, Gaura is forty years old. Despite her efforts to break through these cultural barriers and support her family, her options have been limited by a lack of education, economic, and leadership opportunities.
This is quickly changing for Gaura.
Red Panda Network (RPN) is committed to challenging gender injustices and providing critical livelihood opportunities for women in Nepal’s red panda range. We launched our campaign to Empower Women During Covid-19 in March of 2021 in celebration of International Women’s Day (IWD) and Women’s History Month. Thanks to our supporters, we have already been able to recruit four new female Forest Guardians in eastern Nepal!
Prior to the IWD campaign, in 2020, the project “Community Enterprise for Collective Vegetable Production and Marketing” was jointly initiated by RPN and the World Food Programme (WFP), as well as our local partner organization, in Palata-9 and Pachal Jharna-4 (Lafa), of Kalikot district.
The project area lies in the Karnali Conservation Landscape (KCL) which is critical to protecting a viable population of red pandas in western Nepal. It is also a place where climate-induced disasters — such as drought, landslides, and wildfires — can frequently occur. This impacts the disadvantaged rural communities of the KCL which are highly dependent on forest resources and ecosystem services for their well-being. Unfortunately, this dynamic puts unsustainable pressure on the environment and makes local people vulnerable when biodiversity is lost or when disaster strikes.
The goal of this intervention is to alleviate pressure on forest resources while building resistance in KCL communities. Central to our success are initiatives that provide opportunities for economic and social empowerment among local women who gain financial independence and increased autonomy. RPN, WFP, and local partners have provided financial and technical support.
Determined to achieve financial freedom, Gaura worked diligently to become the first female entrepreneur in her community. She began mushroom cultivation with no prior experience. RPN supported Gaura — and ten other local women — with poly-house material and training in fungiculture (mushroom cultivation) techniques and poly-house construction.
Now she is an agripreneur who sells 5kg of mushrooms a day! Gaura's sales have doubled since she started her business and she is organizing collectives and extending her market to reach bigger towns. From household chores to entrepreneurship, she proved her capability to thrive despite the adversity she faced as a woman in rural Nepal.
Gaura is a true inspiration to other women in her community. “Eliminating barriers and unleashing women's economic potential can have significant benefits throughout communities, fostering greater resilience and prosperity", Gaura states.
We're in the final weeks of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Red pandas may not be too happy about it.
If you’re reading this article, odds are that you’re a human (and if not, congrats on learning how to read, member of another species). One of the most interesting things about humans, and primates in general, is that we have adapted the ability to use tools and don clothing to survive harsh temperatures. However, this is not true of wild red pandas, who can face temperatures of -7 degrees C during a winter night. Fortunately, red pandas have some incredible and unique adaptations that help them survive the harsh winter weather they face!
Red pandas have a thick double-layer of fur. Much like humans who put on a sweatshirt followed by a winter coat, red pandas also use layers to stay warm! There is an incredibly dense undercoat of fur that is topped by an upper coat of thick hair. The two combine to create a lot of insulation for pandas, helping them fight off cold temperatures and even helping keep snow from reaching their skin. Also, the entire panda body is covered in fur except for their noses — even the bottoms of their feet!
Speaking of fur: babies are born with a full coat of fur, ready to face what the Himalayas throw at them from the start! That’s not all young pandas have going for them! Red pandas have evolved a trait known as delayed implantation. After mating takes place (usually between January and March), the fertilized egg will not implant in the uterus and begin developing until conditions are ideal; meaning that if mating takes place too early, the zygote will not start to grow until later in the season, ensuring cubs won’t be born in the harshest part of winter.
That adorable fluffy tail we all love so much is also an adaptation that helps in the winter. When pandas sleep, they are able to curl into a tight ball, and wrap their tail around themselves as an extra layer of protection from the elements. Pandas can wrap up incredibly well, including hiding their face under their tail if they are extremely cold. This form of thermal regulation is something pandas control extremely well, wrapping up tighter or looser as the elements demand.
As you probably already know, red pandas exist almost exclusively on a diet of bamboo; but it is often augmented with insects, lizards, small birds and mammals, fruits, and eggs. However, in the winter, most of these options disappear, leaving the panda with bamboo as the sole source of food. Pandas will often spend half their day gathering enough bamboo to eat during these lean times, and sleeping the rest of the day.
During the lean winter months, when food is scarce and diets are less varied, red pandas are able to slow their metabolisms down significantly. This low metabolic output allows pandas to not have to hibernate or migrate in the winter months. When the weather gets incredibly cold, pandas can slow their metabolic rate even further, similar to that of a sloth. During this time, the panda will become dormant — barely moving at all — while using its stored energy to keep its body temperature consistent.
Of course, we all know that red pandas are an arboreal species, with many adaptations that help them climb trees and live life high above the forest floor. But did you know that actually helps them in the winter as well? On clear winter days, red pandas will climb to the top of the trees to sunbathe! Thus, all of the adaptations pandas have for climbing and gripping such as the furry bottoms of their feet, pseudo-thumbs and retractable claws, and their rotating wrist bones that allow for climbing up or down headfirst...those adaptations all also help red pandas survive in snowy weather!
As you can tell, there are many reasons why red pandas are so perfectly adapted for the harsh winters they face in Nepal. However, some of these traits are also amongst the reasons red pandas are considered so valuable in the illegal wildlife trade. Hats made of those warm tails, or clothing made of the warm double layer of fur that is so necessary to keep pandas alive are considered extremely desirable in certain areas of the world. That is why it is so important to continue our mission to stop poaching and to educate people on the importance of this incredible species.
Red Panda Network is committed to recruiting more female Forest Guardians and providing educational scholarships for female students.
On International Women’s Day 2021, join us in Empowering Women During Covid-19! Our field staff had the pleasure of interviewing a few of our female Forest Guardians and we are pleased to share their courageous stories and experiences with you today.
The soothing sounds of mountain streams and birds chirping gently nudge Man Kumari Nembang awake on a cold, frosty morning. After she completes her morning household chores, she grabs her field monitoring gear, joins her fellow Forest Guardian counterparts, and sets out to patrol the forest habitat; navigating steep unforgiving terrain — in search of wild red pandas.
Man Kumari’s patrol requires her to note vegetation status, assess deforestation threats, scout for illegal poaching activities: footprints, traps, and snares; report her findings to enforcement agencies, and engage local communities to educate them about forest conservation. This is all in a day’s work for Man Kumari, the 45-year-old, single mother of three children, and one of the four female forest guardians recruited by the Red Panda Network (RPN).
Forest Guardians are critical to protecting red pandas and their natural habitat, and are at the forefront of RPN’s conservation efforts. Today, there are over hundred RPN Forest Guardians working in the Himalayas of Nepal. Although Forest Guardians are predominantly male, groundbreakers like Man Kumari are setting examples for other women who want to work in the field.
"A woman can excel in anything that she desires. She can do as much as a man does, and sometimes even do better. We’re here because of a passion and love we share for red pandas and we’re prepared to take action and urge others to do the same,” shared Bimala Moktan, another female Forest Guardian, and a “Green Soldier” as she likes to call herself.
These women are challenging and breaking existing cultural norms and finding new opportunities in male-dominated professions. International Women’s Day allows us to celebrate and share the fortitude and courage of these unsung conservation heroes. We hope it will encourage conversation and open doors for young aspiring girls who believe there are greater opportunities available to themselves.
RPN: What motivated you to become a Forest Guardian?
Man Kumari Nembang: A few years ago, illegal poaching and forest resource harvesting was at its peak in my village. At home, I had a 19-month baby, as well as two other children, and was concerned about their future on two fronts: the degrading village forest, and my family’s challenging financial situation. Becoming a Forest Guardian let me protect the forest and endangered red pandas, and at the same time, secure financial support for my family. I joined RPN four years ago and have never looked back.
Bimala Moktan: I always had a deep passion, empathy, and fascination for nature and the environment which continues to bloom today. Growing up, I witnessed strong gender inequality - my father, uncle, brother, and all the men would do outdoor work and my mother, sister, and I were confined to household chores. I wanted to change that thinking and encourage positive and sustained gender representation. Through the RPN Forest Guardian program, I can enhance my skills, knowledge, and understanding and use it to protect red pandas and their habitat, and also amplify and empower female community voices. Being a Forest Guardian has enabled me to live up to the vision and the values I treasured.
Dipa Rai: As cliche as it may sound, being the guardian of our forest and wildlife is thrilling and indulging. I remember one day, we were conducting forest habitat monitoring, and a wild boar appeared in front of us out of nowhere. I was terrified and just ran with all my courage. It still gives me goosebumps! The forest acts as an antidote to stress and apprehension. We rely on the forest for everything from the food we eat, to the air we breathe, to the wood we use. Realizing the central role of forest, its species, and ecosystem in sustaining livelihood made me adore it even more. However, witnessing escalating illegal wildlife poaching and degrading forest habitat over time made me worried. Many youths are leaving the village for foreign employment, so the onus of protecting red pandas and their habitats lies on people like us.
RPN: What are some of the particular challenges you have faced as a woman who wants to work in conservation?
Man Kumari Nembang: The challenges with patrolling red panda and forest habitat in the deep bamboo forest with deceptively slippery terrain, worsened by harsh unpredictable weather are pretty obvious, but my strong zeal and passion for red panda conservation drives me to keep moving. Initially, people doubted my intentions and even thought I was an illegal poacher, but the scenario is different now. Moreover, I am a single mother, so juggling household chores, taking care of kids, and monitoring the forest around the clock can sometimes be daunting and taxing, but I enjoy every bit of it.
Bimala Moktan: Initially convincing my family to let me step into the role of Forest Guardian and defy social norms was a challenge. Some people downplayed and doubted my ability, and also mocked and ridiculed me for joining male colleagues alone in the forest. However, matching my male counterparts while performing Forest Guardian duties has never been an issue for me. My physical appearance and strength has never been a barrier, as some people might mistakenly think. I firmly believe that the blend of both male and female skillset, experience, and diverse knowledge are critical to effective sustainable forest and red panda conservation. Over time, I've developed a resilient nature. The conservation work we do has made positive impacts on the community, and that has changed the way society perceives us. Now we're being heard and treated more equally. But despite progress, there is still more work to do.
Dipa Rai: Red panda monitoring in the dense bamboo forest is a physically demanding job. At first, I sometimes struggled with the pace of field monitoring. Moreover, accomplishing field monitoring tasks on time and navigating the way back home is often challenging, because of things like heavy fog, steep terrain and deceptive weather. The fear of wildlife attacks and unforeseen accidents is always there.
RPN: How has your role as a Forest Guardian helped you fulfill your dreams/goals of working in conservation?
Man kumari Nembang: I live adjacent to red panda habitats, so frequent encounters with red pandas were normal and that developed my deep attachment with them. But over time, I saw fewer red pandas and signs of their presence, so I wanted to protect them and their habitat but was clueless on how to proceed. Luckily, through the Forest Guardian program, I got the chance to acquire scientific and practical knowledge about red pandas, and enhance my skills and techniques for monitoring forest habitats. Today I have the knowledge, skills, and formal authority to stop illegal poaching and forest harvesting, educate local communities, and help protect red pandas and their habitat. I wonder what more one could desire.
Bimala Moktan: Early in my life, I realized that the survival of mankind relies on a healthy environment, forest, and nature. While many of my peers were leaving to work in other places, I wanted to do something in my village, and safeguard the forest and wildlife from further degradation. As a Forest Guardian, my responsibilities revolve around monitoring red panda habitats, educating local communities on conservation, patrolling to stop poaching, checking for signs of forest fire, and restoring conservation ponds. This is the conservation work I’ve always dreamt of doing.
Dipa Rai: Escalating illegal forest harvesting and wildlife poaching in my village has always been my concern. I wanted to do something to combat illegal forest activities, but I was aware of the degree of danger and conflict I must contend with. Through my four years’ experience of working as Forest Guardian, I am now trained with anti-poaching patrolling skills and well-informed of the existing laws and regulation concerning illegal poaching. Most importantly, I have the authority to fight against illegal loggers and poachers.
RPN: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your role as a forest guardian?
Man Kumari Nembang: Performing Forest Guardian duties while staving off infectious disease is challenging, especially with the limited access to preventive medical supplies including hand sanitizers, masks, and inadequate hygienic measures. In response to COVID-19, human movement in and from outside the village was restricted. As entry was constricted, sometimes forest monitoring equipment stopped functioning and it was difficult to get the new, replacement equipment from a nearby city. That potentially impacted our day-to-day forest monitoring activities. Moreover, with limited villagers’ movement allowed, it became more common for wildlife to venture into human settlements, so we rescued a lot of wild animals.
Bimala Moktan: As I reside in a small village with limited population far from the city, there are comparatively less visible impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. We are undertaking our jobs during the pandemic by adopting COVID-19 safety precautions and maintaining social distancing. However, some of our red panda monitoring blocks lie on the edge of the Nepal/India border. Travel restrictions imposed on the border made it difficult for us to patrol, inspect, and oversee the looming encroachment crisis and potential illicit logging or poaching activities.
Dipa Rai: Reverse migration, loss of livelihood means, and confined human movement engendered by COVID-19 pandemic have enticed people to illegally poach wildlife and encroach forest habitat leaving red pandas in a more vulnerable state. The rise in illegal poaching demanded our intense presence and frequent patrolling. In response, we scaled down and halted conservation activities that require social gatherings, and emphasized forest wildlife patrolling and heightened vigilance.
RPN: Would you like to say something to those who aspire to become like you?
Man Kumari Nembang: Inspired by my efforts to protect the forest environment, my 16-year-old daughter aspires to become a Forest Guardian in the future and wishes to take my legacy forward. What could be more thrilling than that? Age and physical strength can never be a hurdle to the noble mission of protecting forests and wildlife. Passion and determination are what drives you.
Bimala Moktan: Protecting and maintaining healthy forest vitality is our shared moral responsibility. There will always be something that holds you back. Be brave enough to dream and engage in the offbeat unconventional job of being forest warriors.
Dipa Rai: With challenge comes change, never hesitate to take action in the cause that you truly believe.
Over the last few years, our Forest Guardians have created incredible change, restoring 66 hectares of red panda habitat, planting 400,000 trees in Community Forests, and working closely with local communities to help educate and create a greater sense of ownership. However, the impact from the Covid-19 pandemic has been significant, and women and girls in rural Nepal are disproportionately impacted by it.
Providing women with new, alternative employment opportunities can provide essential support, while also protecting red pandas. In celebration of International Women’s Day, our Empower Women During Covid-19 campaign will support our recruiting efforts to hire more women and offer educational scholarships for female students. Please help create gender equality in Nepal and save red pandas by donating to this campaign!
Red Panda Network
Writing and Communications Volunteer
Red Panda Network
As humans worldwide continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, so, too, must nature.
According to several reports Conservation International released in 2020, pandemic restrictions and lockdowns left wildlife and wildlands unprotected, resulting in increased animal trafficking and deforestation.
Unfortunately, red pandas and their habitat are not immune.
A Growing Center of Illegal Trade
While Nepal has seen population increases in critically endangered species, such as the tiger, elephant and wild buffalo, it “has become a thriving transit hub for trafficked endangered species from India, and even Africa, to China,” wrote Sonam Tashi Lama, Program Coordinator for Red Panda Network (RPN), in an email. “In Nepal wildlife trade is certainly increasing and trade junctions along districts bordering India and China are suggestive of a large, international market in most of the cases.”
The number of red panda pelts confiscated by authorities is fluid and changes from year to year, according to Lama. Between 2008 and 2020, authorities seized approximately 158 red panda pelts, with a one-year high of 27 seizures in 2016, according to one study.
“There can be several factors and situations contributing to the sudden rise in poaching activities,” Lama wrote. “We can take the example of this pandemic, while many countries were celebrating how animals from the wild are reclaiming the streets, incidents in Nepal reveal an entirely different tragic story of an elephant and three crocodiles being killed to (the) killing of one horned rhino after 41 months of zero poaching.”
Putting the Spotlight on Poaching
To help raise awareness of this issue, RPN looked to the stars — the movie stars.
Last fall we announced that acclaimed Nepali actor, director and playwright Dayahang Rai had joined RPN as a conservation ambassador and would take part in our anti-poaching initiative.
Rai is the right person for the job, as he not only hails from a remote village in eastern Nepal, but also has a huge, demographically diverse following on social media and beyond, Lama wrote. “As a national heartthrob with over 40 Nepalese movies, Mr. Rai has his fan base in even the most distant villages of Nepal. ‘Highway’ and ‘White Sun’ are Dayahang’s internationally recognized films, representing his international audience.”
Already, the partnership has proved successful. The first video of the campaign has reached 401,000 combined views through RPN’s and Rai’s Facebook pages, resulting in a higher volume of news articles, social media posts and information searches, Lama noted. “Therefore, we are hopeful and positive to reach a wider audience in raising national awareness for conservation of red panda and its illegal trade.”
RPN has a lot to overcome. “Poverty and unemployment is always associated with poaching and illegal wildlife trade,” Lama wrote. “The people involved in illegal red panda trade and poaching are below the poverty line across several metrics.”
Unemployment among young people is one critical driver of illegal wildlife trade and poaching, according to Lama. The International Labour Organization, a United Nations agency, reports that more than 63 percent of Nepal’s 26.5 million people are under 30 years old, and the unemployment rate among young people ages 15-29 is 19.2 percent — about seven times greater than that of the general population.
“Nepal remains largely incapable of capturing the potential of this huge young workforce,” Lama wrote. While the reasons are many and complex, youth unemployment continues to rise in both urban and rural Nepal. Declining industrial and service sectors, skill mis-match between job seekers and employers, and young people’s refusal to work in semi-skilled jobs are among the reasons, according to Lama. “In many rural parts of Nepal, there is a lot of social pressure for young people to go abroad for foreign employment (labor work), as it is seen as having a higher status than working in a low-skilled job back home.”
In it for the Long Haul
Convincing locals that red panda conservation is important has been a marathon, not a sprint.
RPN began establishing our red panda conservation program in the Panchthar-Ilam-Taplejung corridor in 2007. Since then, it has expanded to seven districts of western Nepal.
Today, more than 100 locals serve as Forest Guardians, whom Lama calls the “soul” of community-based red panda conservation. Offering alternative employment options such as this, as well as teaching sustainable herding practices and providing safer, cleaner cooking appliances, have helped improve people’s lives, Lama wrote.
“Community-based conservation requires time to build trust and understanding of the nature of the people and the terrain. The habitat of red pandas is surrounded by the indigenous and marginalized communities in Nepal who are accustomed to a certain way of life: herding practices; their complete dependence on forest resources; and limited livelihood opportunities. For any conservation approach to thrive sustainably, it is vital to be accepted by the communities.”
Writing and Communications Volunteer
Red Panda Network
The popularity of red pandas will rise with the release of Pixar's "Turning Red." The film may also help raise support for the conservation of this endangered species.
When people think of red panda conservation, they often think of it as a battle on two fronts: in situ conservation and ex situ conservation.
In situ conservation is the work being done in the wild, including much of what Red Panda Network does. Planting red panda homes, tracking wild pandas, and our Forest Guardians in Nepal are all great examples of in situ conservation efforts. Ex situ conservation is the work being done away from where pandas live. This work includes the studies and breeding programs being done in zoos, as well as the preservation of genetic materials of endangered species. However, there is another area to consider when thinking about how we can save red pandas, and it’s an area where many people can help, and where a little studio known as Pixar is about to give us all a big boost! I’m talking, of course, about the media.
Let’s be clear: red pandas are awesome and adorable! They are practically the definition of the term “charismatic species,” a term conservationists use to describe megafauna that is particularly lovable or considered symbolic. It is significantly easier to convince people to care about a charismatic species than, say, the Eastern Hellbender, an endangered species that looks super slimy, has an unfortunate name, and is often referred to as a “snot otter.”
So the question becomes, if red pandas are so charismatic, why aren’t more people involved in saving them? And the answer is that there are still many people who have never seen or heard of a red panda! However, that’s all about to change! In 2022, Pixar is releasing a movie called “Turning Red.” It’s the tale of a 13-year-old girl who is just going through her everyday life and facing the challenges we all faced at that age…puberty, crushes, school work…but with one tiny difference. When she gets too excited, she transforms into a large red panda!
“Turning Red,” coupled with other recent red panda appearances in the media, bodes well for the popularity of the species. In recent years you can find red pandas in “Kung Fu Panda (Master Shifu)”, the second season of “His Dark Materials, (Pan),” and Pabu, who is a mix of a red panda and a ferret featured in the “Avatar: The Last Airbender” tv show. There are also well-known virtual clips such as the one featuring a red panda startled by a rock that gets spread around social media sites.
There are definitely people in the animal care world who are not huge fans of characters being based on the animals they love, and I can understand some of the arguments for this way of thinking. One of the biggest concerns is that animated animals are always subject to at least some anthropomorphism (attributing human characteristics to non-human animals), which can lead people to think of animals in human terms rather than as their own incredible and unique species. This is a valid concern.
With that said, it is my firm belief that the benefits outweigh the costs when it comes to an animal like the red panda. Think about it. It is almost impossible to go to an aquarium nowadays without hearing every child (and plenty of adults) exclaim “Nemo!” or “Dory!” as they see clownfishes and royal blue tangs. These people care about these animals precisely because they first cared about Nemo and Dory. A movie like this can represent a major turning point for a species like the red panda.
Along with the actual movie, think about all the red panda merch we are about to see available at retailers like Walmart and Target! There are about to be a bunch of books, toys, and items of clothing featuring a member of our favorite species, and there are going to be a lot of children (and parents) that are reminded about them every time they walk through a toy aisle.
One need look no further than to the “other” panda out there, the giant panda, to see how important general awareness of a species is to its conservation. When the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) was founded in 1961, they decided to make the giant panda the symbol of their organization, and launched an incredible awareness campaign about the species. Citizens in the United States became particularly fascinated by the bears, and by the time President Nixon visited China in 1972 in an attempt to improve relations, his wife, Pat, was in love with giant pandas. At a dinner in Beijing, the First Lady mentioned her love of pandas to Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, who responded by saying, “I’ll give you some.” Two months later, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing arrived at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and it was national news. Ever since then, people from all around the country, and the world, have planned trips to D.C. just to see the pandas that live there, along with the ones in the few other U.S. zoos that have them (currently Memphis and Atlanta).
As the public’s awareness of panda bears grew, so too did donations to the WWF, the Smithsonian Zoo, and other organizations that were trying to help fight against the wild extinction the bears were facing. The combination of awareness and funding led to amazing work being done to save the giant panda, to the point that in 2016, their official status was changed from “endangered” to “vulnerable.” While by no means out of the woods yet, giant panda populations are definitely trending in the right direction, thanks largely to the effects produced by the mass awareness of this charismatic species.
And as for red pandas? Well, they share a name, a love of bamboo, and a pseudo-thumb with giant pandas. Why not share a growing population as well? “Turning Red” represents an amazing opportunity for the red panda conservation movement. A whole generation is about to learn what a red panda is from the same studio that has aquarium employees dreading the name Nemo now.
As red panda fans, it is important that we not only use this film for awareness, but for a true conservation education purpose. There is always the threat that increased awareness will lead to an increased demand for red pandas is the illegal pet trade. While Red Panda Network has taken many steps to curb the illegal panda trade already, there is still much work to be done. It is imperative that we use this movie to encourage a love of red pandas while doing as much as possible to tamper down any inflamed desires for pandas as pets, or for panda pelts.
And don’t forget, thanks to your Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook accounts, you can all use your own social media to educate people as well. Share adorable photos and videos of red pandas that you take or find online! Share promotional images from “Turning Red.” Include a link to Red Panda Network, and use those moments to teach others about this incredible charismatic species we all love so much! In the process, make sure you aren’t just sharing the cuteness, but also important conservation facts. Use the hashtag #nopandapets to spread awareness about our No Panda Pets campaign. Include links not just to “Turning Red” trailers, but to pages that explain the importance of conservation efforts, and how seeing pandas in zoos, or taking a Red Panda Network ecotrip, is a better option than trying to have a panda pet.
We have all seen how effective awareness campaigns such as International Red Panda Day, and the incredible birthday fundraisers so many of you do for us on Facebook and across other social media platforms, can be. Let’s all unite and use the incredible opportunity presented by “Turning Red” to raise awareness for the conservation of red pandas!
Writing and Communications Volunteer
Red Panda Network
We’re working with livestock herders in Nepal to end a water crisis and save red panda habitat.
“These animals are everything to me.”
Santiram Bista is referring to the cows, goats and buffalo he raises to make butter or ghiu, and crushed butter (locally known as churpi). Bista, a 59-year-old father of five from Phungling Municipality-11 in eastern Nepal’s Taplejung district, has been a herder for thirty years. He knows the importance of his livestock— “Without them, I can’t support my family.”
Bista is also one of nine local herders living in a water crisis.
Like all high-mountain herders in the Panchthar-Ilam-Taplejung (PIT) corridor of eastern Nepal, Bista faces numerous daily challenges to his survival — but water scarcity is devastating. Herders often have to walk for miles in search of clean drinking water and many herders suffer from water-borne diseases on a regular basis, due to contaminated water.
This harsh life is the only one these herders have ever known.
“I always had a routine to walk 1 to 1.5 hours to collect drinking water,” Bista shared, referring to a filthy — red and black in color — waterhole that would fill up during monsoons.
His goth resides adjacent to the renowned Pathibhara temple which attracts thousands of pilgrims every year who pass by his goth: a herder’s temporary shed.
“I was also embarrassed to offer tea for travelers or pilgrims crossing by my goth. They weren’t comfortable drinking the water and neither was I.”
The communities in the PIT corridor are mostly agro-pastoralist, who live by a mix of livestock herding and farming. Livestock herding is an age-old practice in Nepal that is vital to the national economy and livelihoods of hundreds of rural community members and their families. Unfortunately, with thousands of livestock in the area, unsustainable herding practices are a major driver of red panda habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation in the PIT corridor.
Panjo Lama, a field technician for Himali Conservation Forum (HCF) — RPN's local community partner organization — was returning from restoring water holes in Dhade, Harkate when he came in contact with Bista who shared his concerns for local water scarcity.
Lama saw the severity of the situation and began working with the herders and RPN in restoring a pond in a nearby pasture that serves as a water source for their cattle and wildlife of the area.
The herders were provided with 14 coils of 16 mm and 20 mm drinking water pipe, along with 2 intake drums and water taps. They spent 15 days installing and channeling pipe, connecting their herder sheds to water (intake) tanks; drums with a natural sediment filter have also been installed near the source (a natural spring) to store the clean water. Learn more in the video below:
Bista and other herders are now thankful to have clean water to drink. They also made a commitment to conservation: from planting trees to helping Red Panda Network (RPN) construct waterholes and ponds for wildlife to adopting sustainable herding practices, herders have been joining us in preserving the local forest and conserving red pandas.
RPN has formed livestock herding management committees to support sustainable herding practices and initiate environmentally sustainable herding practices in the PIT corridor. We have supported livestock herders with 36 portable canvas tents and improved cookstoves — 46 traditional herding sheds have also been improved in the PIT corridor — to reduce fuelwood consumption and local deforestation. Numerous conservation workshops have been held to educate herders on sustainable herding practices that include stall-feeding, improved sanitation, and proper management and disposal of livestock waste. Additionally, we developed a “Pastureland Management Manual'' in the Nepali language that was used to guide the herder workshops.
In order to facilitate alternative income streams for herders in the PIT corridor, RPN has developed a “Goth-stay Tourism Manual”. The manual guidelines will assist in promoting goth-stay tourism which is where a herder offers accommodation to tourists who gain a unique experience of the nomadic herder lifestyle and the incredible forest-home of red pandas and other wildlife.
Our goth-stay tourism initiative is primarily focused on Panchthar district. A cooking and goth-stay management training will be held to prepare herders in basic hospitality techniques and etiquette. We will also provide in-kind support of kitchen utensils and bedding and are planning for distribution to herders.
Goth-stay tourism is an alternative source of income for the herders of the PIT corridor and another step closer to a sustainable life for them and their families. This initiative combined with other conservation programs that provide access to clean drinking water, improved technologies (such as canvas tents and metal cooking stoves) and opportunities for herders to adopt sustainable practices will help ensure a brighter future for people and pandas in the PIT corridor.
Janam Shrestha and Wangchu Bhutia
Red Panda Network
Local people come to the aid of the firefox as the Pathibhara wildfire burns a vulnerable landscape.
A wildfire has been scorching high-mountain forest near the summit of Pathibhara hill in eastern Nepal's Taplejung district.
This is a location of prime red panda habitat that is very close to where a red panda was spotted by participants of one of Red Panda Network’s (RPN) ecotrips in March 2019.
Members of our community partner, Himali Conservation Forum (HCF), and the Pathibhara-Simbu, Sunpati, and Mayam Patal Community Forest have been part of the local firefighting response. For days the fire continued to spread — containment efforts were impeded by strong winds — and according to the Divisional Forest Office (DFO), Taplejung, approximately 150 hectares of forest areas have been burned in Pathibhara Simbu and Sunpati Community Forests.
The Community Forest model has helped to bolster sustainable forest management and increase forest cover in Nepal. Unfortunately, wildfires are a major contributor to habitat loss and degradation in Nepal with data showing that about 400,000 hectares of forest burns every year (since 2002). They are often human-induced.
The Pathibhara Simbu and Sunpati Community Forests have been sites of our community-based red panda monitoring program since 2010. The Firefox Guardian is a documentary about Menuka Bhattarai, our first female Forest Guardian, that was filmed in the Pathibhara Simbu Community Forest which is now heavily burned.
These Community Forests also border the Kangchenjunga Conservation Area (KCA): identified as one of the biologically richest regions in the Eastern Himalayas. A Community Forest in the KCA has also been burned by the wildfire.
“This is a big loss for the red panda and biodiversity of the Panchthar-Ilam-Taplejung (PIT) corridor. It will take several years to recover this loss. We are very committed and will collaborate with all stakeholders for recovering this biggest loss of the year for the PIT corridor.” said Ang Phuri Sherpa, Country Director for RPN.
Ramesh Rai, HCF's Program Coordinator, led a firefighting response team that engaged local people in protecting their Community Forests, as well as in providing essential supplies such as food, water and first-aid medical kits. Thanks to the support from our generous donors, Rai and a team of our Forest Guardians were able to receive first aid training in 2019. “The firefighting team lacked enough equipment, personal protective gear, and first-aid medicine. We have to provide more support to these forest users and the people who manage tea houses along the Pathibhara trail. Due to the lack of proper tools, people relied on tree branches to contain the fire” said Rai. The other members of the wildfire response team were from Nepal Police, Armed Police Force, and Nepal Army from Taplejung and Panchthar districts.
Left and right photos: Transportation and distribution of essential supplies by the firefighting response team. © Remesh Rai
Photo at top of blog: wild red panda in Taplejung photographed during 2019 ecotrip. © Kuniko Kai.
HCF coordinated with the DFO of Taplejung in mobilizing the local community to fight the fire. Birendra Yadav, local Divisional Forest Officer, said, “it is important to train and equip the local communities with the firefighting tools and gear. We should work collaboratively in organizing such training in the future but the DFO lacks resources to combat wildfires.”
Now the wildfire in Taplejung is mostly contained but firefighters haven't been able to extinguish many of the areas that are currently burning. A significant challenge for containing wildfire in the Pathibhara region is lack of local water sources. Fortunately, RPN has been supplying drinking water pipes to herders and other community people and creating water holes for wildlife and livestock; we created four water holes in 2020.
Thanks to the support of our donors and conservation partners around the world, in 2017 we were also able to provide Deurali Bhitri, Yamabung and Pathibhara Simbu Community Forests in Taplejung with firefighting equipment, personal protective gear and training, which have been critical to our success in containing the Pathibhara wildfire and protecting red panda habitat.
In order to buffer the impact of wildfires — including fires from anthropogenic activities — on red panda habitat, populations and other threatened, sympatric species; RPN has been organizing community wild firefighting teams since 2015.
Our community-based wildfire management program in eastern Nepal has trained more than 250 local people. The firefighting teams consist of Community Forest User Group (CFUG) members trained in combating wildfires and educated on fire types, causes, effects and preventive measures. RPN also provides wildfire-fighting tools and personal protective gear to the team members.
These efforts have helped increase awareness among CFUGs on how to prevent fires and the adverse impacts on biodiversity.
“One of the best ways to prevent wildfires is to train, engage and mobilize the local community people on wildfire management. The people from their own community could be the cause of the wildfire and thus working with the primary reason would be the best option.”
This was part of RPN’s Program Coordinator, Sonam Tashi Lama, answer to a question from Rain Forest Trust in Voices from the Rainforest: The Realities of Wildfire Management. Sonam continued: “Secondly, education and awareness about the adverse effects of the wildfires with the local community will also be effective. In the Nepal context, the model of the community forest is working well on mitigating the incidents of wildfires as each and every member of the community are the watchdogs of their forest.”
Surya Bhattarai is one of our Forest Guardians from Sudap Khola Community Forest in Mamangkhe village in Taplejung district. He also informed us of another wildfire incident that burned approximately 12 hectares of forest near his village that is now contained. A wildfire in Basapachal Jharna Community Forest of Kalikot district in western Nepal was contained by local people, including our Forest Guardians. Fortunately, this incident happened soon after two days of community-based wildfire management training that we organized for 15 participants.
Top left: members of the firefighting team in Basapachal Jharna Community Forest.
Top right: forest fire management training participants in Kalikot district, western Nepal.
Map: The yellow circle is the Pathibhara wildfire and the red circle is the wildfire near Mamangkhe village in Taplejung district.
Our goal is to offer a community-based wildfire management training for the people of Deurali Bhitri, Yamabung, Mayam Patal, and Pathibhara Simbu Community Forests this March and April. We need to also provide firefighting tools and personal protective gear to local CFUG members. If you would like to support these initiatives please donate here and choose "Pathibhara wildfire" as your gift designation when checking out.
Plant A Red Panda Home is our answer to an urgent situation and an uncertain future for red pandas.
Red Panda Network (RPN) uses an integrative approach to conservation that protects habitat through partnerships with community organizations and education and sustainable livelihood programs for local people. But RPN’s Program Coordinator, Sonam Tashi Lama, and other members of our conservation team knew we needed to scale up restoration efforts in order to save the endangered red panda.
“This is an urgent situation," Lama stated.
He is referring to how deforestation in Nepal is looming over the fate of red pandas. Their habitat is already fragmented into 400 small forest patches and continued settlement and agriculture conversions — along with habitat degradation from unsustainable herding practices and harvest of forest resources — are causing the red panda's home to continue to disappear.
"We needed a robust and strategic reforestation initiative,” Lama explains. “This [Plant A Red Panda Home] is our answer.”
This campaign responds by identifying core habitat and population bottleneck locations to plant trees and work with local communities to protect the restored areas. The goal is to connect fragmented forest and protected areas and create a contiguous biological corridor.
One of these areas is a vast tract of barren, deforested land (approximately 654 hectares of private and public lands) in Jaubari — part of the Chitre-Jaubari-Gairibas belt — located right on the Nepal-India border. Once restored, these forests will link fragmented habitats and be part of a critical forest corridor that connects protected areas in Nepal with Singalila National Park in India.
In 2019, RPN purchased and acquired approximately 18 hectares of private land and in December 20191, we worked with surveyors from the Government of Nepal in completing a field survey, mapping of purchased land, and measurements for protective fencing. We also recently purchased over ten hectares in the same area, contributing to our effort to create habitat connectivity in Ilam district.
But restoring red panda habitat isn’t easy. The process is labor-intensive and success depends on a number of factors, including sapling survival and fence installation to protect the newly restored land from livestock and human encroachment.
Fortunately, RPN is teaming up with the dedicated people of our local partner NGO in Ilam district, Mountain Organization Nepal (MOON), who will be executing the project.
All of the purchased land in Jaubari will soon become part of a Community Forest where local people will manage the land and restoration activities.
MOON is an example of how local communities are committing to red panda conservation. And this is key to our success. Thanks to local people, as well as RPN supporters and partners all over the world, we planted nearly 15,000 trees in Santapur Community Forest and 8,000 trees in the Jaubari restoration area of Ilam district in June-July this year. We also built a new Forest Conservation Nursery in Panchthar district which will produce 20,000 native plants and trees including Umbrella tree, Himalayan whitebeam, wild kiwifruit and Himalayan yew!
We now have five Forest Conservation Nurseries (3 in Taplejung, 1 in Panchthar and Ilam district) that can produce more than 125,000 native saplings! Also, three more nurseries will be started by the end of 2020 in eastern and western Nepal.
The nurseries provide sustainable sources of non-timber forest products (NTFPs), medicinal and aromatic plants, and fodder species — as well as income for local people — which helps to reduce pressure on forest resources. Red panda food and shelter species will also be cultivated and used for habitat restoration.
Lama’s role is to oversee planting, nurseries, and all of the activities for the national restoration campaign. It’s a big job but he knows how vital it is to not just the red panda: “Like all of our community-based programs, Plant A Red Panda Home supports sustainable livelihoods for the local people.”
In Jaubari, it’s not just wildlife that is benefiting from reforestation. People like Thupten Bhutia and his community are experiencing sustainable livelihoods first-hand. He shares, “We now have access to grasses for our livestock, thanks to their restoration program, which provides alternative income opportunities to people of the area.”
Pema Pradhan is another local person in Ilam district who has witnessed the impacts of our community-based restoration initiative. She shares her testimony in a video below which translates to: "Namaste! My name is Pema Pradhan. It has been three years since we planted trees here and we can already see the changes. The forest restoration has provided income generation opportunities for us by employing us for 15 days in a month."
Since 2019, Plant A Red Panda Home has resulted in approximately 1,000 days of employment for the people who live among the pandas in eastern Nepal's Ilam district.
Important milestones like this are made possible by the support of our members and conservation partners. Thanks to you, we have reached our initial goal of $70,000! And we are pleased to announce that John Ball Zoo, Zoo Boise, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Pueblo Zoo, Topeka Zoo and Conservation Center, and Mesker Park Zoo and Botanic Garden have just joined the First Panda Challenge and are now matching donations dollar-for-dollar up to $50,000!
Donate now to help us combat deforestation by reforesting 50 more hectares of red panda habitat with 100,000 trees! With your help, we will be able to restore places that are clearcut, degraded and uninhabitable for local wildlife. Just like here, in the Chitre-Jaubari-Gairibas belt, red pandas and other threatened species will be able to return to their reforested homes all over Nepal.
Together, we can create a brighter future for the last of the first panda.
- Nine hectares of private land was purchased and an additional nine hectares of private land was acquired from the private landowners who were over the maximum amount of land permitted by the government of Nepal. The Lands Act 1964 of Nepal includes a maximum amount of land allowed by a landowner, which varies by physiographic zone. 3.6 hectares of land is the maximum for private land for a person in the hilly region of Nepal. The person we purchased the land in Jaubari from had over the maximum and agreed to transfer the excess land when we purchased the 9 hectares.