• Red Pandas Return To Jaubari – Part 1

    We reforested this important place. Now it is thriving and providing hope for the future of red pandas and the habitat we are restoring now.

    Thupten Bhutia is eighty years old. He is from Jaubari Village in Sandakpur Rural Municipality of eastern Nepal’s Ilam district. He has lived here for most of his life and has watched his community change in many ways. But nothing has impacted the lives of Bhutia and his fellow villagers like community-based conservation—

    “Red Panda Network has been helping us restore our degraded forests for eight years now; the Jaubari community is very happy that they are here,” Bhutia smiles while sharing this during an interview with Wangchu Bhutia, Project Coordinator for Red Panda Network (RPN). “Wildlife that hasn’t been seen here for years — like Himalayan black bear, red muntjac, leopard and even red panda — are now visiting the reforested habitat.”

    Thupten Bhutia of Jaubari Village.
    Thupten Bhutia of Jaubari Village.
    Northern red muntjac in Jaubari forest.
    Northern red muntjac in Jaubari forest.

    Bhutia is referring to one of RPN’s pioneer reforestation projects in Nepal. We began restoring red panda habitat to counter the country’s perturbing levels of deforestation. The location, Jaubari, was known then to be a significant location for conservation but the RPN team is now aware of how critical the Chitre-Jaubari-Gairibas belt is to the future of red pandas.

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    The Chitre-Jaubari-Gairibas belt is an important transboundary location that connects red panda habitats in India and Nepal. The yellow line marks the international border. 

    In 2016, RPN continued its work in Jaubari by restoring 34 hectares of degraded forest. Ongoing habitat monitoring by Forest Guardians (including a camera trap survey in 2018) shows that red pandas and other endangered wildlife are now thriving in this area.

    RPN launched Plant A Red Panda Home (or 'Plant A Home') in Nepal in 2019. This is a campaign to connect fragmented forest through tree planting and habitat restoration. Our goal is to create a continuous biological corridor that is community-protected for red pandas and other threatened wildlife to thrive in. 

    Since the campaign started, we have planted nearly 50,000 trees in areas that have been identified as core habitat and critical to the survival of the nation’s wild red pandas!

    A camera trap photo of a red panda after habitat restoration. © RPN
    A camera trap photo of a red panda after habitat restoration. © RPN

    As you can see — thanks to the support of our donors and conservation partners — there is a lot for us to celebrate. But, of course, there is a reason why we started the Plant A Home campaign: Deforestation is threatening the future of red pandas in Nepal.  

    In Nepal, forests are disappearing.  A total of 33,800 hectares of the nation’s forest cover was lost between 2001 and 2016. Among some of the causes of deforestation and forest degradation are conversions to settlement and agriculture (including slash-and-burn), unsustainable harvest of forest resources, livestock overgrazing, rural road-development,  exploitation of bamboo — the temperamental plant that makes up about 95% of a red panda’s diet — and forest fire. 

    “As a tree-dwelling species, red pandas struggle to survive when forests are fragmented and populations become susceptible to genetic bottleneck,” says Sonam Tashi Lama, RPN’s Program Coordinator. Genetic, or population, bottleneck, is a sharp reduction in the size of a population due to environmental events. 

    To be continued...

  • Red Panda: Two Species Or One?

    What was once considered an animal with no close relatives, is now a species that may have had a hidden relative all along much closer than one would have ever thought.

    Recent studies are suggesting that the red panda, Ailurus fulgens currently grouped into two subspecies, Ailurus (fulgens) styani and Ailurus (fulgens) fulgens might actually be two seperate species.  

    Although the idea of two different red panda species is not yet confirmed, there are differences that can suggest which subspecies or species it may be. A redder face and more distinguished rings on the tail is typically seen in what would be the Chinese red panda Ailurus (fulgens) styani, while a whiter face is typically a Himalayan red panda Ailurus (fulgens) fulgens.

    Yet, the color of a face is not enough to determine a species. Beyond the physical features of the red panda, the geographical location can also provide a clue. The Himalayan red pandas are found in Nepal, India, and Bhutan, fitting their Himalayan name; the Chinese red pandas suit their name by predominantly being found in southwestern China.  

    Ailurus (fulgens) styani © Kuniko Kai
    Ailurus (fulgens) styani © Kuniko Kai

    This is not the first time the taxonomy of red pandas has been called into question. Trained zoologist and chair of the Red Panda Global Species Management Plan, Angela Glaston, has said, "Oldfield Thomas proposed this back in the 1920s. However, new genetic information provides the proposition with a lot more credibility. Two separate red panda species will mean that the IUCN Red Data List will need to be revised”. 

    Scientists have consistently found it difficult to figure out where red pandas fit into the phylogenetic tree. For many years, they were thought to belong to the Procyonid family (raccoons, coatis, etc) due to superficial similarities in facial and tail markings. However, more recently, DNA studies have shown that red pandas actually belong to their own distinct family, the Ailurids, that is more closely related to the skunk and weasel families. As the sole members of the Ailurid family, red pandas are “one of the most evolutionary distinct and globally endangered mammals in the world” as stated in BBC’s article, “Red Pandas Are Two Different Species, Not One”.

    Through the technique of sequencing genomes and comparing the two subspecies’ DNAs, scientists are able to identify the differences, and similarities, that help solve the mystery of the red panda.

    Angela Glatston holding her book, Red Panda Biology and Red Panda: The Biology and Conservation of the First Panda.
    Angela Glatston holding her book, Red Panda Biology and Red Panda: The Biology and Conservation of the First Panda.

    Speciation is the evolutionary process by which populations evolve to become distinct species. This includes both sympatric speciation populations evolving within the same geographical area and allopatric speciation: populations evolving due to geographical isolation. In the case of red pandas, the most likely type of speciation would be allopatric. It is thought that around 250,000 years ago, a river split the two apart. From there, the one species is thought to have diverged into two.  

    If it is decided that there are in fact two species of red pandas, this would mean there are smaller populations for each species, instead of one population including both subspecies. These smaller populations could mean less genetic variation, which can make it harder for them to adapt to the changing environment.

    While this information may be discouraging, conservationists and scientists can now better understand how to protect red pandas. According to the NewScientist article, member of the Chinese Academy of Science in Beijing, Yibo Hu says that, ‘“To conserve the genetic uniqueness of the two species, we should avoid their interbreeding in captivity”’. The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) has long had a policy of not cross-breeding subspecies. The regional zoo Red Panda breeding programs, now combined in the Red Panda Global Species Management Plan, have always adhered to this. Therefore, zoos hold separate populations of Chinese and Himalayan red pandas that provide us with valuable resources for supplementation or reintroduction programs if required. 

    Habitat restoration is the main threat to wild red pandas.

    Deforestation is threatening wild red pandas. This is why we started the Plant A Red Panda Habitat Home campaign!

    Glatston (who also happens to be chair of the Red Panda Network board of directors) offers the question, “Will this change their endangered status? Probably not, but it needs to be examined."

    This offers hope that red pandas may receive the attention they need to augment protections of their habitat and allow their numbers in the wild to recover. The majority of our community-based programs are in Nepal along with one project  in Bhutan but our goal is to continue to expand to all countries with wild red pandas, whether that’s one or two species.

    Christina Barba
    Writing and Communications Volunteer
    Red Panda Network

  • End Rabies for Red Pandas!

    RPN is committed to vaccinating dogs and reducing red panda mortality from rabies transmission in Nepal.

    Canine companions in Nepal are killing red pandas.

    According to BBC News, the future of 200 wildlife species is threatened by our planet’s estimated one billion domestic dogs.

    Some of these dogs are feral and free-ranging — Red Panda Network (RPN) calls them ‘free-roaming’ — and this global stressor to biodiversity has caused nearly a dozen wildlife species to go extinct.

    Free-roaming dogs cause wildlife to move away from an area, either temporarily or permanently. Wild animals become less active during the day in order to avoid interaction with the strays. Free-roaming dogs can kill wild animals and spread diseases. They can also pollute water sources and transmit parasites to both animals and humans.

    Video: Feral dogs in red panda habitat in Myam Patal Community Forest in eastern Nepal.

    In eastern Nepal, humans are converting red panda habitat to agriculture, pastureland, and settlement; and encroaching on their home as they harvest forest resources. We have also identified free-roaming dogs -- mostly feral, hunting and herding dogs in the region’s Panchthar-Ilam-Taplejung (PIT) corridor --  as a top threat to local red panda populations.  

    “They can be predatory and kill the pandas,” remarks RPN’s Program Coordinator, Sonam Tashi Lama. “Or they can transmit dangerous diseases that may result in red panda mortality.” 

    So if the red panda is fortunate enough to escape a dog attack with its life, a bite can result in a debilitating parasite or death by rabies or the canine distemper virus. 

    Dogs can also spread seven species of gastrointestinal parasites to red pandas. 

    Unfortunately, the disadvantaged communities of rural Nepal are often unable to vaccinate their pets. So, in honor of World Rabies Day, we are working with Global Alliance for Rabies Control to offer free rabies vaccinations and vaccinate approximately 2,300 dogs in 6 of the nation’s red panda range districts!

    Free rabies vaccination event in Taplejung, eastern Nepal. © RPN
    Free rabies vaccination event in Taplejung, eastern Nepal. © RPN

    This goal will be achieved through RPN’s continued collaboration with community partners in Nepal. In eastern Nepal: Deep Jyoti Youth Club in Panchthar district, Mountain Organization (Ilam) and Himali Conservation Forum (Taplejung). Danphe Yuwa Club (Jajarkot) and Human Right Awareness Center (Rolpa) Human Rights Environment Development Campaign and Research Center (Rukum) are who we are working alongside in western Nepal. 

    "The free rabies vaccination camp by RPN is beneficial not only for dogs but for all the residents of this village. We would like to see the continuation of this program in the future,"  said Yogesh Bhattarai, Chairman of Ward Council in Phungling Municipality of Taplejung district. 

    This isn’t the first time RPN has worked to alleviate the threat of free-roaming dogs. Earlier this year, we completed a free-roaming dog survey in the PIT corridor of eastern Nepal. The information from the survey is being used to guide conservation interventions to reduce red panda mortality and disease transmission.

    RPN is working with local agencies and community organizations in Nepal to implement neutering and rabies vaccination programs for free-roaming dogs. 

    In the last two years, we have vaccinated 1,800 free-roaming dogs in Jajarkot district, western Nepal! 159 dogs were also vaccinated in eastern Nepal's Panchthar district.

    In 2017 and 2018, RPN partnered with the District Livestock Service Centre of Ilam and Taplejung in implementing a neutering and rabies vaccination program. A team of technicians performed neutering operations on 200 dogs between the ages of 8 months to 9 years, benefitting 156 households of 8 Community Forests. 53 dogs received rabies vaccinations.

     

    Free rabies vaccinations in eastern Nepal. © RPN
    Free rabies vaccinations in eastern Nepal. © RPN

    Visit our event page to learn more about our initiative in Nepal! Want to get involved in helping the Global Alliance for Rabies Control reach their goal of eliminating rabies by 2030? Check out World Rabies Day. 

    Click here to learn more about community-based programs in Nepal! 

    More photos of free rabies vaccination activities in eastern Nepal:

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  • Press Release: Dayahang Rai: Red Panda Network Conservation Ambassador

    Read in Nepali
    Download a PDF of the Press Release

    Popular Nepali actor, director, and playwriter, Dayahang Rai, has joined Red Panda Network (RPN) as a conservation ambassador.

    Dayahang is one of Nepal’s acclaimed film stars. He will help us raise national awareness of this endangered species and a rising threat to their survival — the illegal red panda trade.

    “We are thrilled to work with one of the most popular actors in Nepal,” says Ang Phuri Sherpa, RPN’s Country Director. “We are very hopeful that he will bring our red panda conservation message to a wider audience in Nepal, as well as India, and Bhutan.”

    Dayahang is also eager to help RPN’s mission. “I grew up in a remote village in eastern Nepal. I spent my childhood feeling very close to nature but I was never aware that our area is blessed with the presence of this beautiful animal.”

    Wild red panda photographed on camera trap in eastern Nepal. © RPN
    Wild red panda photographed on camera trap in eastern Nepal. © RPN
    Dayahang Rai and RPN Program Coordinator, Sonam Tashi Lama. © Rashik Maharjan/RPN
    Dayahang Rai and RPN Program Coordinator, Sonam Tashi Lama. © Rashik Maharjan/RPN

    Highway and White Sun are Dayahang’s internationally successful films. White Sun was selected as the Nepali entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 90th Academy Award and was premiered at the 73rd Venice International Film Festival. He has received three national awards for Best Supporting Actor in 2009 for Dasdhunga and Best Actor for Sambodhan and Kabaddi Kabaddi in 2014 and 2016. Dayahang has acted in 40 Nepali movies including Kabbaddi and Loot which are some of the most popular. He is also very active in Nepali theater; acting in 33 plays, and directing and writing over a dozen more.

    “I am fortunate to be a part of this noble effort to conserve our national treasure. I will try my best to contribute to the conservation of red panda.”

    Print and broadcast media contact: 

    Terrance Fleming (877) 854-2391 Ext. 101, terrance@redpandanetwork.org 

    For further information contact: 

    Sonam Tashi Lama, +977 9841843968, sonam.lama@redpandanetwork.org 

    Red Panda Network protects wild red pandas and their habitat through the education and empowerment of local communities. Learn more about our work at www.redpandanetwork.org.

    Dayahang Rai and RPN Country Director, Ang Phuri Sherpa.
    Dayahang Rai and RPN Country Director, Ang Phuri Sherpa.

    दयाहाङ राई:  रेड पाण्डा नेटवर्क संरक्षण दूतमा नियुक्त 

    प्रेस विज्ञप्तिको पिडीएफ डाउनलोड गर्नुहोस् ।

    नेपालको कला क्षेत्रमा सफल कलाकार, निर्देशक र नाट्यकारको रुपमा परिचित दयाहाङ राई रेड पाण्डा नेटवर्क संरक्षण दूतको रुपमा नियुक्त हुनुभएको छ ।

    दयाहाङ राईले नेपाली चलचित्र जगतमा अत्यन्तै ख्याति कमाउनु भएको छ । उहाँले दुर्लभ वन्यजन्तु रेड पाण्डा (हाब्रे) को संरक्षण र रेड पाण्डाको अवैध चोरी-शिकारको विरुद्धमा जनचेतना जगाउन रेड पाण्डा नेटवर्कलाई सहयोग गर्नुहुनेछ ।   

    “हामी नेपालका एक प्रसिद्ध कलाकार दयाहाङ राईसँग रेड पाण्डा संरक्षणको कार्यमा सहकार्य गर्न पाउँदा अत्यन्तै हर्षित छौ । यस सहकार्यको माध्यमवाट रेड पाण्डा संरक्षणको आवाजलाई आम-जनमासमा पुर्याउँन हामी सफल हुनेछौ भन्ने कुरामा म विश्वस्त छु ।” रेड पाण्डा नेटवर्कका निर्देशक आङ फूरी शेर्पाले भन्नुभयो ।

    Wild red panda photographed on camera trap in eastern Nepal. © RPN

    पूर्वी नेपालमा स्वचालित क्यामराले कैद गरिएको रेड पाण्डाको फोटो । © रेड पाण्डा नेटवर्क

    Dayahang Rai and RPN Program Coordinator, Sonam Tashi Lama. © Rashik Maharjan/RPN

    कलाकार दयाहाङ राई र रेड पाण्डा नेटवर्कका सोनाम टासी लामा  © रशिक महर्जन/रेड पाण्डा नेटवर्क

    दयाहाङ राई रेड पाण्डा नेटवर्कको संरक्षण कार्यमा सम्मिलित हुन पाउँदा अत्यन्तै उत्साहित हुनुहुन्छ । “म पूर्वी नेपालको ग्रामीण परिवेशमा हुर्के । मेरो वाल्यकाल प्रकृतिको सामिप्यतामा बित्यो तर मलाई हाम्रो क्षेत्र यति सुन्दर जनावरले सु-शोभित छ भन्ने कुराको हेक्का कहिल्यै भएन । हाम्रो राष्ट्रको प्राकृतिक सम्पदाको रुपमा रहेको यस जनावरको संरक्षणमा आफुलाई सामेल गराउन पाउँदा म गौरवान्दित छु । म आफ्नो तर्फवाट यस जनावरको संरक्षणमा योगदान दिन अथक प्रयत्न गर्नेछु ।” राईले भन्नुभयो ।

    हाईवे  र ह्वाईट सन  राईका अन्तराष्ट्रिय रुपमा सफल चलचित्रहरु हुन् । नव्वेऔं अकाडमी अवार्डमा ह्वाईट सनले अन्तराष्ट्रिय भाषाको सर्वश्रेष्ठ चलचित्र विधामा नेपाली भाषाको चलचित्रको प्रतिनिधित्व गरेको थियो । उक्त चलचित्रलाई ७३औं भेनिस चलचित्र महोत्सवमा प्रिमिएर गरिएको थियो । राईले दासढुंगा, सम्बोधन र कवड्डी कवड्डीका लागि तीनवटा राष्ट्रिय अवार्ड जित्नुभएको छ । चालिस भन्दा धेरै नेपाली चलचित्रमा उहाँको अभिनय हेर्न सकिन्छ, जसमा कवड्डी कवड्डी र लुट सफल चलचित्रहरु मध्ये पर्दछन् । उहाँ नेपाली नाट्य विधामा पनि उतिकै सक्रिय हुनुहुन्छ ।

    छापा र प्रसारण मिडियाको लागि:

    टेरेन्स फ्लेमिंग, (८७७) ८५४-२३९१ एक्सटेन्सन १०१, terrance@redpandanetwork.org

    थप जानकारीको लागि: 

    सोनाम टासी लामा, +९७७ ९८४१८४३९६८, sonam.lama@redpandanetwork.org 

    रेड पाण्डा नेटवर्क रेड पाण्डा (हाव्रे) र यसको वासस्थान संरक्षणमा कार्यरत संस्था हो । थप जानकारीको लागि www.redpandanetwork.org मा हेर्नुहोला ।

    Dayahang Rai and RPN Country Director, Ang Phuri Sherpa.

    कलाकार दयाहाङ राई र रेड पाण्डा नेटवर्कका राष्ट्रिय निर्देशक आङफुरी शेर्पा  © सोनाम टासी लामा /रेड पाण्डा नेटवर्क

  • The Road to Deurali: Building a Future for People and Red Pandas

    The people, stories and photos from the construction site of a center committed to alleviating poverty and sustainable living.

    It’s monsoon season in Nepal and the weather is oscillating between heavy rainfall and beaming sunlight. Twenty-three-year-old Phurba Gurung is finishing up his chores before he starts his ten-kilometer commute to work from the district headquarters (Phungling Municipality-8) to Deurali, a mountain village in eastern Nepal’s Taplejung district.

    As Gurung arrives at the worksite he hears harsh yet familiar sounds of construction — loud clangs and cracks; sawing, smashing and hammering; machines humming, and he hears voices. He heads towards the noise and an extraordinary structure of stone and wood rises among a backdrop of forest and mountain. He joins his workers in building something never seen before by anyone in the area; a place that is very significant for local people and for wildlife.

    CCSL construction site in Deurali, Taplejung district, eastern Nepal.  © RPN
    CCSL construction site in Deurali, Taplejung district, eastern Nepal. © RPN

    This is the Center for Conservation and Sustainable Living (CCSL), and once finished, will be an education and skill-building hub that improves the living standards and increases the annual income of at least 2,000 local families.

    Illustration of CCSL on project site in Taplejung, eastern Nepal.
    Illustration of CCSL on project site in Taplejung, eastern Nepal.
    Pasang Sherpa cutting stones. © RPN
    Pasang Sherpa cutting stones. © RPN

    In Nepali, “Deurali” means the peak of a hill or pass where people usually take rest after their assent. But Gurung and his workers are not resting now. There are typically eight to ten workers at the CCSL site and one of them is a man who is busy cutting stones on a machine. His name is Pasang Sherpa and he is a 40-year-old local from the area. He shapes the stones as a tailor sews his clothes in a sewing machine. Sherpa developed this skill while living in Saudi Arabia for 9 years, “I prepare 70-75 stones daily. I do not feel any difficulties in this work as I frequently take breaks for food and water.”

    Another member of the CCSL team is Gurung’s site supervisor, a civil engineer named Sagar Pokharel. He talks about how this is an eco-friendly design and many of the materials used in the building are local and from sustainable sources. For example, what appears to be a concrete structure is actually a mix of soil, ash, eggshell, cow dung, and straw molded to a strong, concrete-like substance. The timber also comes for a sustainable source. 

    The CCSL construction site located on the route to Pathibhara temple, on the Pathibhara peak, a famous Hindu shrine that attracts thousands of visitors every year from Nepal, India and other parts of the world who often follow this route to trek to Mount Kangchenjunga basecamp. 

    A view of red-panda habitat from CCSL site. © RPN
    A view of red-panda habitat from CCSL site. © RPN

    Along with the Pathibhara temple and Kangchenjunga, the CCSL will be a center of attraction in the area, especially for ecotourists. Visitors and tourists will be able to stop by the CCSL to learn about environmental conservation and enjoy organic food in the nearby homestays. They will see breathtaking views of the forested hills — these “hills” are over 3,600 meters high but are dwarfed by the spectacular Himalayas — in Deurali Bhitri Community Forest (CF) and Sayapatri CF, and the third tallest mountain in the world,  Kangchenjunga at 8,586 meters. 

    Down in the forests below, RPN is working with Community Forest Users Groups (CFUGs) in sustainably managing their forests. One of our programs is Forest Conservation Nurseries (“RPN nursery” in map to the right) which help to generate jobs, increase local incomes and reduce pressure on forest resources by providing a sustainable source of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) and medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs)  for the local communities.

    Map of the CCSL area. © RPN
    Map of the CCSL area. © RPN

    The stakeholders in the area are supportive of sustainable development and see the CCSL’s potential for cultivating environmental stewardship among the visitors and tourists. Pasang Rita Sherpa, the secretary of the Deurali Bhitri CFUG, said, “initially, forest and wildlife conservation was not easy. But as we prioritized educating locals about the link between wildlife conservation and sustainable income for local people, they became more engaged in protecting their forests.” The Deurali Bhitri CFUG have now conserved about 200 hectares of red panda habitat. 

    Another stakeholder — Bhim Bista, a tea house owner in Deurali, believes the CCSL will help his business and other local businesses flourish as it becomes a renowned ecotourism destination. 

    And the center’s impacts won’t just be local. The thousands of people who visit the CCSL will return home with this message: Wildlife conservation and sustainable livelihoods are interdependent; thriving biodiversity can mean thriving communities and vice versa. The CCSL will also educate and demonstrate how to achieve community-based conservation.

    In 2021, the road to Deurali will have a new place to visit that is not only an education and resource center, but a monument of community-based conservation where people like Phurba Gurung have opportunities for a better life. “Of all the work I’ve done before, this is special to me. We are very motivated to see the final structure of the CCSL.”

    This important center that will help create a sustainable future for people and pandas in eastern Nepal is made possible by the support and generosity of is made Nordens Ark and Svenska Postkodlotteriet.

    Learn more about the CCSL and check out additional construction photos below!

     

    Phurba Gurung (blue shirt) preparing a pit for kiln (a type of oven).  © RPN

    Phurba Gurung (blue shirt) preparing a pit for kiln (a type of oven). © RPN

    Using the kiln to dry wood. © RPN
    Using the kiln to dry wood. © RPN
    Making mud mortar with mix of egg shell, mud, rice, straw and ash. © RPN
    Making mud mortar with mix of egg shell, mud, rice, straw and ash. © RPN
    The mud mortar will work as binding material for wall stones. © RPN
    The mud mortar will work as binding material for wall stones. © RPN
    The landscape where the CCSL is located: The right side is Deurali Community Forest and left side is Yamabung Community Forest. © RPN
    The landscape where the CCSL is located: The right side is Deurali Community Forest and left side is Yamabung Community Forest. © RPN
  • Help the People Who Help Red Pandas

    RPN is on a mission to improve the health and livelihoods of local families while protecting the home of this endangered species.

    On the surface, buying household appliances and donating to red panda conservation have nothing to do with one another.

    But as a Red Panda Network (RPN) Panda Guardian, your monthly donation to our Stoves for Stewards campaign helps the people who help the pandas.

    Since 2017, RPN has been on a mission to provide improved cooking stoves (ICS) to communities within the red panda range. The metal ICS not only are more fuel-efficient but also friendlier to the environment and human health than the mud-and-stone cookstoves traditionally used in these villages.

    The collection of firewood to fuel the traditional stoves contributes to deforestation and habitat loss threatening red pandas. Burning that wood, in turn, adversely affects the health of the people using the stoves.

    Fuelwood harvest is a major cause of deforestation in Nepal. © Red Panda Network.
    Fuelwood harvest is a major cause of deforestation in Nepal. © Red Panda Network.

    According to WHO, each year nearly four million people die prematurely from illnesses linked to indoor air pollution caused by cooking with inefficient stoves and open fires. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), ischaemic heart disease and pneumonia combined cause more than 70 percent of those deaths.

    RPN’s goal for this year is to furnish the homes of 85 of our Forest Guardians (FGs), as well as 110 homestay owners and other community members, with ICS. Each stove costs from US$350 to US$425, depending on size, but can be as much as US$500 due to fluctuations in the US dollar to Nepalese rupee exchange rate.

    To date, we’ve distributed 135 ICS to the FGs, herders, homestay owners and other people living in the Panchthar-Ilam-Taplejung (PIT) Corridor of eastern Nepal. Just one of the stoves helps save 540 kilograms (about 1,190 pounds) of firewood per year, says RPN Program Coordinator Sonam Tashi Lama. That means the 135 ICS in the PIT Corridor help save nearly 73,000 kilograms (about 160,700 pounds) of firewood each year.

    Up to 34 percent of wood harvested for fuel worldwide is unsustainable, and burning solid fuels, such as wood, for cooking and heating produces up to 58 percent of black carbon emissions, according to the Clean Cooking Alliance, a public-private partnership that promotes clean-cooking methods around the world.

    By reducing wood consumption by about 50 percent, ICS help mitigate these effects. They also lessen the drudgery of food preparation, a task that in Nepal falls primarily upon women.

    Thanks to the improved stoves’ fuel efficiency, women spend less time collecting firewood and less time cooking than when using traditional stoves, Lama says. Cleaning is easier, too. “The smoke (from traditional stoves) also heavily soils clothing, and makes the cooking pots and interior walls black, requiring valuable time and effort to scrub clean,” he says.

    Local women with ICS. ©RPN
    Local women with ICS. ©RPN

    Ngima Dawa Sherpa, a Forest Guardian, has seen several benefits: “The three main advantages of adopting ICS are massive reduction in interior smoke, which means no irritation on eyes; no black scar on cooking utensils, which means less work for women on cleaning; and one can install the ICS as per their height, which helps in reducing back pain that is caused by cooking.”

    In the years since RPN began distributing the ICS, improvements have been made, such as the use of cast iron on the upper surfaces, Lama says. In addition, the stoves come in two sizes, one suitable for herders and one for families.

    Lama says demand from the community is important for acceptance of the technology and its sustainability. “Nepal is unique for its large forest capacity relative to population,” he says. “The stewardship of forestland de facto lies in the hands of the closest village. Governance over the use of these community forest resources takes the form of rules and norms formulated by the village and enforced by them. Our FGs, when aware about the negative impacts of habitat loss and deforestation to red panda habitat and overall biodiversity, were more than happy to switch to ICS.”

    Herder cooking on improved metal stove in herder tent. ©RPN
    Herder cooking on improved metal stove in herder tent. ©RPN
    ICS distribution to local people in eastern Nepal. ©RPN
    ICS distribution to local people in eastern Nepal. ©RPN

    Their adoption of the stoves has led to interest from other members of the community, such as tea house owners and hoteliers, Lama says. “We regularly receive demand for ICS via our partner organizations in the field during our community consultations.”

    Lama is hopeful this interest will lead to further improvements in biodiversity and quality of life as RPN expands our campaign beyond FGs and educates the public on using ICS.

    “We have a plan for regular monitoring of the efficient use of distributed ICS among the users because sometimes they lack proper use techniques of ICS, which may lead to overuse of firewood,” he says. “A local from each cluster of the community is being trained for installation and maintenance of ICS so that the person could monitor and provide support when needed locally.”

    Dawn Peterson
    Writing and Communications Volunteer
    Red Panda Network

    Learn more about our Stoves for Stewards campaign and how you can double your impact this month for the people who help red pandas!

  • 12 Ways Red Pandas Are Unique (and Cute!)

    With International Red Panda Day 2020 only weeks away, it's time to appreciate what we love about this unique species!

    1. Red pandas are the only living creatures in their family — Ailuridae. Their name might lead you to think that the red panda’s closest relative is the giant panda, but studies show that they are an ancient species in the order Carnivora, superfamily Musteloidea, which makes them probably most closely related to the group that includes weasels, raccoons, and skunks!

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    2. Red pandas are the result of what naturalists call convergent evolution: they're classified as carnivores, so their closest relatives are meat eaters, yet they live mainly on bamboo — about 95% of their diet! — which they only digest about 24 percent of the bamboo they eat.

    This means red pandas need to eat 20 to 30 percent of their body weight each day and have been found to eat approximately 20,000 bamboo leaves in a single day! Roots, succulent grasses, fallen fruits, insects & grubs, the occasional bird and small mammal are also within the red panda's diet. Here's one munching on grapes!

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    3. Red pandas are clearly cute but did you know their facial markings help them survive? The reddish 'tear tracks' extending from their eyes to the corner of their mouth may help keep the sun out of their eyes. The white on their face is "almost luminescent" and can guide a mother's lost cubs in the darkness! 

    © Mathias Appel
    © Mathias Appel

    4. To say red pandas are a 'high altitude species' is putting it mildly. Red pandas live in temperate forests at elevations between 2,200 and 4,000 meters! How high is that? Well the Empire State Building is only 443 meters tall and Mile High Stadium in Denver, CO is at 1,609 meters! Essentially, red pandas follow the trees up the mountains and their habitat ends at the treeline.

    Here, the summers are mild and wet, while the winters bring snow, so red pandas move lower during cold months. Though wintry weather isn't the ideal climate for them, it sure doesn't stop them from having a little fun with snow when they have the chance!

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    5. When it gets really cold red pandas can become dormant and go into what is called torpor (a state of decreased physiological activity in an animal). They wrap their tail around themselves and go into a deep sleep, reducing their metabolic demands and lowering both their core temperature and respiration rate. They will even use their large tails as a pillow!

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    6. The fur on their feet is so thick they don't even leave a defined print! This fur helps keep their feet warm and prevents them from slipping on the wet and icy branches. 

    © Shepreth Wildlife Park
    © Shepreth Wildlife Park

    7. Did you know that the red panda has a sweet tooth? In a 2009 study in The Journal of Heredity, researchers discovered that red pandas preferred artificial sugars to plain or naturally sweetened bowls of water. That makes them the only non-primate species known to be able to taste aspartame, an ability previously thought unique to Old World monkeys, apes, and humans!

    Red panda Mei Mei at Oregon Zoo.
    Red panda Mei Mei at Oregon Zoo.

    8. Red pandas stand on their hind legs! While an upright panda may be cute, this is actually a defense mechanism as red pandas will often stand up to appear larger when provoked or threatened. They will also let out their loudest call: the huff-quack. It sounds like a big bear is in the room (while quacking) and if they are stressed or cornered they may even defend themselves with their sharp claws or release a foul smell from their scent glands on the intruder or stand on their hind legs. So if you ever see a standing panda you may want to keep your distance! 

    Photo from Cincinnati Zoo.
    Photo from Cincinnati Zoo.

    9. Red pandas also have very sharp claws and are one of the few animals that can climb straight down a tree, head-first!

    © Red Panda Network
    © Red Panda Network

    10. "Preadaptation" is when a species or taxonomic group develops a new use for a morphological feature that they inherited from their ancestors, who at one point, benefited from the feature in other ways.

    What is an example of a preadaptation in red pandas? Their thumbs! Which are actually hidden thumbs or modified wrist bones that originated in the carnivore ancestors of red pandas.

    Over time, the function of this thumb evolved to be used to assist in grasping and stripping bamboo stalks. And like raccoons, they also dip their paws into water when they take a drink!

    Design by Laura Finnegan. Share on social media!
    Design by Laura Finnegan. Share on social media!

    11. Red pandas spend most of their time in trees (arboreal) and aren't exactly built for efficient movement on the ground. In fact, they tend to only ground themselves when it is absolutely necessary! Their front legs are short and angled inward, which causes them to have their signature waddle-walk.

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    12. Red, black and white? Sometimes with hints of orange and yellow? One might not think these would be very good colors for a tree-dwelling mammal. But did you know this precise color combination helps them camouflage from their predators? They blend in great with the red moss, white lichen and yellow-orange-red foliage of their forest habitat. And their black bellies makes them difficult to see from below!

    © Red Panda Network
    © Red Panda Network

    Help us raise awareness of International Red Panda Day 2020 — and the first-ever virtual event — by sharing your favorite fact from this article on social media or share one of our red panda fact banners by Laura Finnegan!

    Learn more red panda facts!

  • RPN Urges China to Upgrade Red Panda Conservation Status

    First revision of protected species list in 30 years provides unique opportunity.

    On Monday, a red panda was photographed eating cherries at Wawushan Nature Reserve in Meishan City of southwest China's Sichuan Province. The visit was brief but delightful for the fortunate reserve staff who witnessed the animal eat and then retreat back into the forest. 

    The timing of the red panda’s visit was interesting with the National Forestry and Grassland Administration and the Ministry of Agricultural and Rural Affairs’ recent announcement to update to their national list of endangered species and has started to collect public opinion. This is the first time the list has been reviewed and updated since 1988.

    This proposal is part of China's efforts to augment protective regulations on threatened wildlife and Red Panda Network (RPN) saw this as a critical opportunity to highlight red panda (小熊猫 Ailurus fulgens)  conservation in the country’s policymaking. 

    Last week, RPN submitted a formal recommendation to strengthen conservation of the red panda by changing its status on China’s National Protected Wildlife Species List from Class II to Class I.

    This isn’t the first time RPN — an international nonprofit organization, started in 2007; committed to the conservation of wild red pandas and their habitat through the education and empowerment of local communities  — worked to achieve policy-level change. In 2016, RPN provided technical and financial support to the Nepali government for the first national survey of red pandas, and as a result Nepal approved a National Red Panda Conservation Action Plan in 2019.

    Red panda cubs at a zoo in China.
    Red panda cubs at a zoo in China.

    The red panda is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of threatened species and included in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Nepal’s National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act, 1973 also listed this species as a protected species.

    The red panda is found in temperate broadleaved and coniferous forest with bamboo undergrowth in Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, and Nepal. There is strong evidence that the species is in decline across much of its range due to threats including habitat loss and fragmentation, predation and disease from domestic animals, climate change and poaching. In China, red pandas are found in Sichuan, Yunnan, and Tibet, and although conservation efforts have improved in recent years the species has disappeared from large parts of its historic range.  

    A Population Habitat Viability Assessment (PHVA) for red pandas in China was conducted in 2012 by experts from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), Institute of Zoology (IOZ); Rotterdam Zoo; and the IUCN SSC Conservation Breeding Specialist Group (CBSG) and Small Carnivore Specialist Group (SCSG) with support from RPN. The PHVA report recommends strengthening protection for the red panda as a high priority action item.

    Global red panda range on topographic map.
    Global red panda range on topographic map.
    Wild red panda in Nepal. © Axel Gebauer.
    Wild red panda in Nepal. © Axel Gebauer.

    More recent research from the Chinese Academy of Science proposes that the red panda may actually comprise two phylogenetically-distinct species, one found mainly in China and the other in the Himalayas. This possibility further strengthens the need for enhanced protection, since each of the new red panda species would have a much smaller population than the currently-recognized species. 

    RPN’s hope is for this recommendation is to provide usable information and guidance in China’s decisionmaking process so that red pandas can continue to eat cherries — while representing local biodiversity as an important, flagship species — in the Wawushan Nature Reserve and throughout their range in China. 

  • Human Lives Transformed Through Red Panda Conservation

    They ​are the heart of our community-based initiatives in Nepal. This is the tale of three Forest Guardians.

    It starts with Bimala Moktan.

    Bimala was 24 when she joined Red Panda Network's (RPN) national Forest Guardian (FG) team. Her uncle, Deu Prakash Tamang, had been an FG since 2006 and was among the first selected by RPN. In 2015, Tamang led a team of villagers to chase four poachers who had trapped a live red panda. They were able to free the animal from the poachers and release it back into the wild.

    Tamang later stepped down so a new generation could protect the forest, and Bimala wanted to follow in his footsteps.

    Bimala is from Prangbung village in Panchthar district, Eastern Nepal. Forests play an integral role in the lives of people in Prangbung. Villagers enter forests frequently to collect firewood for cooking, graze livestock and harvest medicinal herbs and Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs). Bimala began to notice the landscape that surrounded her village was becoming deforested and degraded.

    “The need to save our forests and the wildlife that lives there is no longer deniable,” said Bimala during an interview with RPN staff.

    ​Forest Guardian, Bimala Moktan.
    ​Forest Guardian, Bimala Moktan.

    Tamang later stepped down so a new generation could protect the forest, and Bimala wanted to follow in his footsteps.

    Bimala is from Prangbung village in Panchthar district, Eastern Nepal. Forests play an integral role in the lives of people in Prangbung. Villagers enter forests frequently to collect firewood for cooking, graze livestock and harvest medicinal herbs and Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs). Bimala began to notice the landscape that surrounded her village was becoming deforested and degraded.

    “The need to save our forests and the wildlife that lives there is no longer deniable,” said Bimala during an interview with RPN staff.

    Ngima Sherpa is from Dobato in Ilam district. Like Bimala, his village is remote, rural and heavily dependent on forest resources. It is also part of the Panchthar-Ilam-Taplejung (PIT) corridor which is home to 25% of Nepal's endangered red panda population. This region in Eastern Nepal is where RPN has developed a community-based model for conservation and is establishing the PIT Red Panda Protected Forest: the world's first protected area dedicated to red panda!

    Ngima has been a member of our FG team since 2014. He's been instrumental in a number of projects including mammal camera trapping in the PIT corridor, Plant A Red Panda Home, and our GPS-satellite collar study as a red panda tracker.

    Forest Guardian, Ngima Sherpa.
    Forest Guardian, Ngima Sherpa.
    ​Red panda with GPS collar.  © James Houston/Red Panda Network
    ​Red panda with GPS collar. © James Houston/Red Panda Network

    The third FG is Menuka Bhattarai: The Firefox Guardian.

    Menuka is RPN's first female Forest Guardian and the focus of the award-winning documentary The Firefox Guardian. She is from Phawakhola village in Taplejung, a remote hilly district in Eastern Nepal and one of the major habitats of endangered red pandas.

    According to Menuka, locals didn't know what a red panda was; they threw stones to scare the animal away whenever they entered the village or were spotted in the forest. “We were unaware of the importance of this creature”.

    Forest Guardian, Menuka Bhattarai.
    Forest Guardian, Menuka Bhattarai.

    Menuka joined RPN’s Forest Guardian team about eight years ago. Back then, people would question Menuka and why she is saving an animal they considered harmful. “Poachers used to threaten me. They tried to convince me that there is no use for protecting red panda. Initially, I felt discouraged but eventually I got to know more about red pandas and wanted to work toward their conservation,”.

    She also added how she was taunted for being a girl. “They want all women to work at home. They did not believe I could be a successful Forest Guardian just because I’m a woman,” Menuka shares in The Firefox Guardian film.

    Over the years — thanks to people like you — the perception among local people towards red panda has changed. RPN's outreach programs are informing people as to why they must protect this unique, important and endangered species. Our sustainable livelihood programs are fostering red panda stewardship with viable income streams.

    Now, with over 100 members, the FG program is a powerful example of how red panda conservation can transform the lives of people who live among them.

    Bimala is now 27. In addition to her role as an FG, she also works as a member of the Jaljale Pokhari Community Forest. In Panchthar district, RPN is alleviating pressure on red panda habitat — we are protecting the forests so important to Bimala's home — through distribution of improved cooking stoves, support of sustainable herding practices and nurseries that provide medicinal herbs and NTFPs for local families.

    ​Bimala Moktan and Dipa Rai during 2020 FG training in Panchthar.
    ​Bimala Moktan and Dipa Rai during 2020 FG training in Panchthar.
    The new generation of FGs during 2020 training in Taplejung.
    The new generation of FGs during 2020 training in Taplejung.

    Ten red pandas were collared for Nepal's first-ever red panda GPS-satellite study and one of them was named "Ngima" by the research team. The name means sun and it was in honor of the FG that continues to monitor and protect the red panda's forest habitat in Ilam.

    Ngima stated: "I am very grateful to RPN for their continuous work in conserving endangered species and providing an opportunity to improve my economic level. Community-based programs like these are the future of red panda conservation."

    In Taplejung, Menuka has broken through cultural barriers as an inspiration to women in her village who are passionate about conservation. Thanks to the film The Firefox Guardian, her incredible story has been shared all over the world.

    We would say "The End" but — thanks to our dedicated supporters all over the world — this is just the beginning of people and communities coming together in Nepal to save the last of the first panda.

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    Bimala was featured in a campaign for our Panda Guardian team of dedicated donors whose monthly support creates sustainable livelihoods for the people living on the frontlines of red panda conservation!