• Red Panda Representation In The Media: A Different Kind of Conservation

    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!

    Pixar's "Turning Red" is set to be released on March 11, 2022.
    Pixar's "Turning Red" is set to be released on March 11, 2022.

    “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.

    Wild red panda in eastern Nepal. © RPN
    Wild red panda in eastern Nepal. © RPN

    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.  

    Red panda "Bandit" at Columbus Zoo. © Rossifari
    Red panda "Bandit" at Columbus Zoo. © Rossifari

    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. 

    Kora, Bandit, and Santi at Columbus Zoo. © Rossifari
    Kora, Bandit, and Santi at Columbus Zoo. © Rossifari

    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!

    Jon Rossi
    Writing and Communications Volunteer
    Red Panda Network

    Jon is the founder of the Rossifari brand, Instagram page and podcast.

  • Water For Herders; Protection for Red Pandas

    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. 

    Santiram Bista with livestock.
    Santiram Bista with livestock.

    “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.

    This used to be a drinking water source for Bista and his family.
    This used to be a drinking water source for Bista and his family.
    Local herders installing pipe for drinking water.
    Local herders installing pipe for drinking water.

    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. 

    Local herder with new portable canvas tent.
    Local herder with new portable canvas tent.

    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

  • Wildfire Threatens Wild Red Pandas in Nepal

    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.

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    IMG_1008

    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. 

    Firefighting training in Taplejung in 2017. © RPN
    Firefighting training in Taplejung in 2017. © RPN

    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.”

    A forest fire management training in eastern Nepal. © RPN
    A forest fire management training in eastern Nepal. © RPN
    Wild red panda in Taplejung district. © RPN
    Wild red panda in Taplejung district. © RPN

    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. 

    FOREST FIRE_BASAPACHALJHARANA CF_KALIKOT_DEC_B
    PARTICIPANTS AT TRAINING
    map of fires

    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. 

  • Red Pandas Return To Jaubari – Part 2

    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. 

    Restoration site Jaubari in eastern Nepal. ©RPN
    Restoration site Jaubari in eastern Nepal. ©RPN

    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.

    Leopard cat in Jaubari. © RPN
    Leopard cat in Jaubari. © RPN
    Bamboo growth at the restoration site in Jaubari. ©Ngima Phinju Sherpa/RPN
    Bamboo growth at the restoration site in Jaubari. ©Ngima Phinju Sherpa/RPN

    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 with signs of red panda in the restored area. © Ngima Phinju Sherpa/RPN
    Lama with signs of red panda in the restored area. © Ngima Phinju Sherpa/RPN

    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 ZooTopeka 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.

    1. 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.
  • Your 2020 Holiday Guide to Gifts and Giving!

    Happy Holidays from Red Panda Network! Here are 6 ways you can make an impact for red pandas — while giving fantastic gifts — this holiday season:

    Donate in honor of a loved one and send them a small or large red panda plush, 2021 calendar, t-shirt or a reusable stainless-steel water bottle (co-branded with Klean Kanteen) as a free gift (details at checkout)!

    Plus, thanks to our First Panda Challengers, your donation will be matched x2 in helping us restore and reconnect red panda habitat in Nepal!

    We're over 80% to our goal to Plant A Red Panda Home:
    #2 Purchase coffee that saves red pandas! 
    Red Panda Coffee Co makes delicious coffee and 10% of your purchase supports red panda conservation!
    #3  Adopt a panda! 

    Give the gift of conservation by symbolically adopting one of six red pandas in our project area in eastern Nepal. One of them is red panda Paaru who is one of ten wild red pandas equipped with collars during Nepal's first-ever GPS-satellite collar study.

    Your adoption will support the Plant A Red Panda Home campaign that will restore and reconnect Paaru's fragmented home in eastern Nepal.

    Protect yourself and save red pandas

    Adopt red panda Paaru and choose a 'Save the Red Panda' mask as a free gift!

    #4 Start a Facebook fundraiser for RPN!
    Commit to a fun and healthy challenge while raising funds to save red pandas.
    #5 Use Amazon Smile while shopping for holiday gifts!
    Use this link: http://smile.amazon.com/ch/26-1103671 to save red pandas with every purchase (no extra cost to you!).
    #6 Purchase something from Cute Pawz

    Cute animals inspired tee-shirts, hoodies and more. Donates 40% of sales to Red Panda Network!

  • 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:

    IMG_7626
    IMG_1237
    IMG_7672
  • 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