Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic Highlights Need to Stop Illegal Trade of Red Pandas and Other Wildlife
As humanity continues to endure COVID-19, RPN bolsters efforts to stop the illegal red panda trade and to protect pangolins.
We love introducing more people to red pandas. They are incredibly intelligent, whimsical, and cute animals. But as red panda popularity has risen, so has poaching; whether they’re killed for their furs, or captured to be sold as exotic pets, an issue we wrote about in our No Panda Pets article.
When you hear “poaching,” the first thing you might think of is the loss of animal lives. But the consequences of animal poaching can have unexpectedly far-reaching impacts beyond the loss of life. It’s suspected that the recent coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak may have been caused by animal-to-human transmission from a wild animal market in Wuhan, China. Although it’ll take time for experts to determine the exact cause for the breakout, this wouldn’t be the first time a disease outbreak may have been caused by the illegal hunting, capture and sale of animals; the Ebola virus outbreak epidemic of 2014, the Swine Influenza pandemic in 2009, and the Nipah virus outbreak of 1999 representing just a few of the more recent examples.
What is RPN doing to fight back against poaching?
Stopping the illegal wildlife trade is a hard problem to solve, and something the Red Panda Network has been working on for years. In 2016, we announced an anti-poaching network, consisting of our Forest Guardian team and other local stakeholders. Our Forest Guardians are our troops on the ground. They are paid to monitor red panda habitats and help educate their communities, and are essential to two core tenets of our anti-poaching efforts - education and patrolling.
Community-based conservation and education
Many people don't understand how serious an issue poaching is. Not only does poaching hurt animals, but it also creates a “serious threat from habitat destruction and degradation” according to a report from TRAFFIC that can impact hundreds of other species. And as we’ve seen with some of the disease outbreaks in the past, there can be a human cost as well.
Educating the communities and law enforcement helps us better partner with them to identify and protect red pandas and other animals. In December 2019, we conducted a two-day anti-poaching training session with 43 of our Forest Guardians. This training covered the scope of the illegal red panda trade problem, the efforts made by various Nepalese authorities to stop illegal red panda trade, and also strengthened our relationship with the law enforcement officers in each district, making it easier for Forest Guardians to report poaching activities for investigation.
Patrolling to stop poaching
Our Forest Guardians actively patrol red panda habitats. In 2019, our anti-poaching networks patrolled over 130km of forests in Eastern Nepal. Patrolling red panda habitats helps us fight back against poaching in a few ways:
- Patrolling helps us collect vital information. Our Forest Guardians look for signs of poaching, collect data on these illegal activities, and report them to the respective government officials. This helps us understand how much poaching occurs, and then determine the best approach for fighting back against it.
- Patrolling allows us to protect animals by removing traps. We also set up cameras in areas where we notice frequent poaching activity, which helps us remove traps more quickly, and in some cases even identify poachers for prosecution.
- Finally, patrolling enables our Forest Guardian team to take an active role in enforcing anti-poaching laws. Stopping poaching is a team effort. In cases where we’re able to capture footage of poachers in action, our Forest Guardians work closely with local law enforcement to identify, track down, and arrest poachers.
What’s next for RPN?
We plan to expand our anti-poaching monitoring in new areas in Nepal — places where we aren't actively present — to achieve a full understanding of Nepal's illegal red panda poaching. We also recently announced that we're expanding our efforts to also track pangolin poaching as part of our monitoring efforts. Pangolins are small, scaly mammals, very similar to an anteater. Pangolins, like red pandas, can be found in Nepal, and have been identified as the most trafficked mammal in the world.
What can you do?
Donate! Help us stop poaching with a one-time gift that will help us provide training, salary, clothing, and gear to our Forest Guardians, and make a direct impact on our ability to monitor, track, and stop poachers.
Want to augment your impact? Join our Panda Guardian team of passionate donors by signing up for a monthly contribution. For as little as $15 a month you can provide anti-poaching investigation training for a group of Forest Guardians. For $5 a month you can support the cost of red panda habitat monitoring by a Forest Guardian!
Educate yourself, and share what you’ve learned! Read more about how to help stop the illegal red panda trade, and share some of our downloadable images on social media to support our #NoPandaPets awareness campaign. There are also a lot of resources and good articles available through organizations like the World Wildlife Fund, TRAFFIC, and more. Sharing what you learn with your friends and family helps raise awareness, and helps our efforts to get legislators to support laws that help our cause.
In the meanwhile, stay safe and remain vigilant! Stopping poaching is an ongoing effort, and with your support, we vow to continue to fight for the future of pandas, pangolins and people.
Red Panda Network
Red pandas aren’t the largest in their class, but these nocturnal Asian mammals about the size of a house cat are big indicators of the health of their habitat.
Listed as “endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, red pandas are what conservationists call an “umbrella species.” That means that, ideally, conservation efforts put into place to protect them also will protect other animals within their geographical area.
Native to the Himalayas, red pandas can be found in a disjunct range comprising Bhutan, Nepal, India, China and Myanmar. Within this territory, Red Panda Network (RPN) continues to set up the Panchthar-Ilam-Taplejung (PIT) Red Panda Protected Forest in Eastern Nepal.
RPN believes that establishing this uninterrupted stretch of land measuring 11,500 square kilometers will also benefit other threatened and critically endangered animals on the Red List, such as the clouded leopard (“vulnerable”), the Assam macaque (“near threatened”) and the Chinese Pangolin (“critically endangered”).
Throughout the 20th century, conservationists informally used umbrella species to outline the size and boundaries of wildlife reserves, and the formal idea that one species could be used to protect others within its range didn’t take hold until the 1980s and 1990s, according to Tim Caro, a behavioral/evolutionary ecologist and conservation biologist at UC Davis. Caro has written extensively about the umbrella-species concept.
Recently, ecologists have begun to re-evaluate this theory. A 2018 study found that conservation interventions in Wyoming on behalf of the greater sage-grouse negatively impacted two other birds in the area, the Brewer’s sparrow and the sage thrasher.
In their paper looking at the usefulness of the umbrella species as a conservation tool, Jean-Michel Roberge and Per Angelstam concluded that some multi-species approaches, ones that included a “dream team” of focal species and took into account a variety of habitat needs and terrain characteristics, used in conjunction with other conservation methods could be the most actionable.
Carefully selecting that “dream team” is key to efficiently and cost-effectively preventing the extinction of threatened species, as the authors of a November 2019 study discovered. Researchers from the University of Queensland and various conservation groups compared the Australian federal government’s list of animals prioritized for conservation funding to the list of animals whose management their investigation found had most benefited other species within their ranges.
They determined that the Australian government could increase the protection of threatened terrestrial plants and animals from 6% to 46% by choosing more efficient umbrella species, such as the purple clover and the koala.
In the PIT corridor, the red panda is the ideal umbrella species because the basic requirements for its conservation results in the protection of many other species at the ecosystem level, said Sonam Tashi Lama, RPN’s Program Coordinator.
“The red pandas can't survive well in a fragmented habitat and require large intact temperate broad-leaved forests, which provide a home to the many other co-occurring species in the region,” Lama said. “The red pandas are the only species for the PIT corridor that could drive the attention of the conservation community and grab the sentiments of the local communities to conservation and help to bring the umbrella effect for the conservation of the ecological community in a landscape level.”
Want to help RPN continue its mission to build a protected forest for a “dream team” of species and their captain, the red panda? Learn more about the project here, and when you’re ready to pitch in, visit us here.
Writing and Communications Volunteer
Red Panda Network
RPN works with herders of Nepal to find harmony between their livelihood needs and forest preservation.
The life of a high-mountain herder in Nepal is a difficult one. The threat of weather is constant, temperatures can fluctuate rapidly, and a person can be separated from their family for long durations. As the seasons change the herder must move between higher pastures in summer and lower valleys in winter— always diligent for any threats to the herd. Each herder has between two and four herding stations which they rotate through seasonally with their livestock throughout the year. Maintaining these stations is time-intensive and requires large amounts of lumber. In the montane regions where red pandas live, this means reduced habitat. RPN is helping herders with improved sheds and practices to mitigate deforestation.
Herding sheds require consistent maintenance, which results in an increased demand for timber—up to 800 trees. Each herding station also requires nearly 40 kg (88 pounds) of fuelwood every day for cooking, boiling, space heating, and cheese production.
“During the winter season, we build a makeshift shed by using small branches from a tree and covering them tarpaulin, ” Says Phurba Sherpa, a yak herder from Sankpur, Ilam, Eastern Nepal.
These practices have resulted in deforestation and increased pressure on red panda habitat.
Red Panda Network (RPN) is working with local herders to reduce their dependence on timber. We have designed an improved goth (livestock shed) that includes a portable canvas tent to replace the inefficient herding stations. In 2018, 5,400 trees were saved through the distribution of improved herding sheds and 21 tents to herders.
RPN also provides herders with improved cooking stoves (ICSs) that are fuel-efficient and reduce firewood consumption and air pollution. ICSs can be easily dismantled and transported to new locations. They have contributed to a 50% reduction in fuelwood consumption and local deforestation, reduced indoor air pollution, and improved space heating. In 2018, RPN distributed ICSs to 63 families and livestock herders—saving 390,744 kgs of fuelwood!
These programs have significantly improved the health and livelihoods of local herders. They now have more time to engage in education and income generation activities. Julie K Washnock was able to witness the benefits first-hand during her November 2018 ecotrip with RPN to Nepal: "I’ll never forget speaking with one Nepalese woman about the new stoves RPN had provided their village. Because of this stove, she no longer needed to spend her days tending to their fire. She was now able to get outside to help her family with the garden. She said she felt so much healthier because she was able to get away from the smoke, and I’ll never forget the smile on her face."
Unfortunately, the threats red pandas face doesn’t stop at clear-cuts and habitat loss. Herders often allow cattle to graze in core habitat who trample and feed on bamboo and other plant species that red pandas eat.
RPN works with local herders in developing strategies that mitigate forest degradation. This includes establishing cattle-free protected zones in core habitat, rotational grazing, forest restoration and revegetation, and stall feeding.
We are also working with Community Forest User Groups (CFUGs) to form a livestock herding management committee that supports the adoption of more environmentally sustainable herding practices. RPN and the committee work together to provide conservation workshops where herders are educated on modern methods including stall-feeding, improved sanitation, and proper management and disposal of livestock waste. We provide them with fodder seedlings to encourage stall feeding and reduce the need for forest grazing.
Additionally, in 2019, RPN completed an assessment for a pastureland management manual that will be distributed to local herders.
In order for herders in Eastern Nepal to be able to successfully adopt sustainable practices, alternative income streams need to be made available.
“The key issue is economy and livelihood,” stated Dr. Tashi Dorji, Senior Ecologist, International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). Dr. Dorji goes on to explain how tourism and high-value niche products (yak cheese and yak wool clothing) are effective markets for herders to earn income that can provide economic stability for their families.
In support of our economic empowerment objectives for people living among red pandas, RPN trained 29 local herders on goth-stay tourism. We plan to offer ecotrips, in the near future, where tourists can stay with herders and view red pandas and other wildlife thriving in the protected surrounding forests.
With a mission to protect endangered plant and animal species around the world, the Stichting Wildlife Foundation has provided conservation funding and education for more than 30 years from its home base in the Netherlands.
Formed in 1985 to prevent the closure of the Safaripark Beekse Bergen, the foundation has since expanded its activities to include funding wildlife preservation projects.
This year, the foundation gave a record €162,000 (about $178,000 U.S.) to nearly 30 projects, including €7,500 (about $8,000 U.S.) to Red Panda Network (RPN) for its Plant A Red Panda Home initiative. The RPN program restores red panda habitat through the purchase of land and the planting of native trees in eastern and western Nepal.
In total, RPN has received more than €30,000 (about $33,000 U.S.) from Stichting in the last two years. “Our normal procedure is that after the first year, if we are happy about the communications and the way the money is spent, we continue to support yearly with a larger amount of money,” said Kris Hekhuis, secretary of Stichting Wildlife and volunteer-coordinator at the Safari Park, in an email. “How much that is will depend on our income from the previous year.”
For example, money raised in 2018 was divided among the various projects this summer. Animal adoptions generate the most money, Hekuis said. Other revenue comes from donations and sales of merchandise, such as elephant dung, which can be used for fertilizer.
As the foundation has grown, so, too, has its ability to not only support more projects but also to give more money to the projects, Hekuis said. “In 2018 Red Panda Network was also our ‘project of the year’ which meant we had some special activities—like dinner at the zoo and guided twilight tours—to raise extra money for the red pandas. In total we raised around €20,000.”
The board of the foundation meets in April or May of each year to decide which projects to fund, Hekuis said. Suggestions for projects to support can come from employees, volunteers, zoos, the coordinator of the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) or the projects themselves.
To receive funding, new projects must meet several conditions. First, they must be in-situ (in the wild) projects. Second, they must deal with animals that are represented in one of the four zoos in which Stichting operates.
“That way we can ‘use’ the animals that we have in the zoo as ambassadors for their wild relatives, and we can inspire our visitors to help the animals in the wild,” Hekhuis said. “A third condition is communication. We need to have some idea about what happens to the money that we donate. Either through an annual report or just a personal update, photographs, etc. Finally, we prefer projects that are small-scale. Projects where we know our money will make a huge difference.”
For the foreseeable future, Stichting plans to continue to support RPN, Hekhuis said. “We think they do a great job in helping red pandas in the wild, and unfortunately the red pandas still need a lot of support.”
Red pandas aren’t alone.
One of the foundation’s main challenges is deciding which projects to back. “There are so many animal species that need urgent help in the wild, and unfortunately we can't support all of them,” Hekhuis said. “Another challenge is getting the visitors of our zoos engaged and enthusiastic about conservation. We find that people are very interested in animals and nature, but as soon as you start talking about conservation issues they tend to walk away. Fortunately our volunteers are very good at getting our message across.”
Approximately 120 volunteers, aged 17 to 75, form the backbone of Stichting Wildlife, Hekhuis said. “They all feel very much part of our foundation and the work we do, and they are also very proud to work in the zoo that they volunteer in.”
Another key strength of the foundation is its relationship with the zoos in which it works, Hekhuis said. While Stichting Wildlife is independent of the zoos and the company that owns them, it maintains cordial ties with all. “We are very fortunate that the relationship with not only management but also the employees, such as the keepers of the zoos, is very good,” Hekhuis said. “We work very closely together and are able to reach out to a lot of visitors.”
In the next few years, Stichting Wildlife’s main focus will be increasing the visibility of the foundation and the projects it supports within the four partnership zoos, Hekhuis said. “At the moment our volunteers do a great job of telling the visitors about our work, but we would like the public to be more aware of the role that zoos and foundations such as ours can play in supporting wildlife.”
Writing and Communications Volunteer
Red Panda Network
*Top photo of two cubs of red panda triplets born at Safaripark Beekse Bergen in 2019.
On International Red Panda Day’s 10-year anniversary, record numbers of participants raise funds and awareness for red pandas worldwide.
September 21st is the 10-year anniversary of International Red Panda Day (IRPD) and we couldn’t have reached this major milestone without your support! Thank you for making this day of red panda awareness, educational outreach, and fundraising such a success!
In the past decade, this annual event has grown from 16 registered schools and zoos in 2010, to 115 (and counting!) schools, zoos, businesses, and organizations participating in IRPD events worldwide in 2019!
“Raising awareness about this amazing species” is a primary goal of IRPD, Red Panda Network (RPN) board member Nicki Boyd told me. Boyd, Associate Curator of Behavioral Husbandry for the San Diego Zoo, helped found the first IRPD with board members of the RPN in 2010.
“We knew we could gain momentum for awareness and fundraising for our conservation efforts by picking a day when zoos [and other organizations] could celebrate red pandas,” Boyd said.
Anyone who wants to register an IRPD event with RPN can do so, and to make your event a success, there are fact sheets, posters, images for social media, activity guides, and more for you to download and use on our website. Also, for the first time, IRPD educational and outreach materials can now be downloaded from our website in English, Japanese, Polish, and Czech.
This year, funds raised during registered IRPD events will go directly towards the Plant A Red Panda Home campaign, which began in 2019. This RPN conservation campaign aims to alleviate the effects of deforestation in 32 hectares of core red panda habitat in Nepal by planting native trees, installing fencing to protect newly planted saplings, and purchasing land in eastern Nepal for reforestation.
“Western Nepal has considerable areas of forest that are potential habitat for red panda. However, the forests are degraded and fragmented, which limits movement and food availability for local wildlife,” RPN Program Officer Dinesh Ghale said in a recent field update to RPN Communications Officer Pragati Shahi.
Since 2016, the RPN has reforested about 32.7 hectares of degraded red panda habitat with a total of approximately 20,000 saplings, local trees, and bamboo species.
The Plant A Red Panda Home campaign expands on these efforts, which are already aiding local wildlife. According to monitoring by RPN Forest Guardians and camera trap surveys, red pandas and other endangered wildlife are now flourishing in the regions of forest restored by RPN.
Replanting degraded forest in high priority areas, such as the Nepal’s Shree Gairemela Community Forest, “will improve the connectivity of forest patches and red panda population viability,” Shahi explained.
Involving kids in red panda conservation is another important goal of IRPD. It’s also a lot of fun, Boyd explained. For many people, including Boyd, teaching kids about red pandas is one of the most rewarding parts of IRPD.
Children who help spread the word about red panda conservation goals are known as Red Panda Rangers. For our tenth-annual IRPD, RPN aims to create as many new Red Panda Rangers in a single day as possible.
“Kids are our future conservationists”, Boyd said. IRPD is especially important for red panda conservation because it provides so many opportunities to teach kids about red pandas. The IRPD children’s activity guide “gets them excited about a species that isn’t as well known,” Boyd told me. “Some kids come back to see the red pandas again and again with their red panda plush toys saying it’s their favorite animal and some kids start fundraising for them through online donations for their birthday parties, bake sales, and more.”
Perhaps the best part of IRPD is the way it brings people of all ages from around the world together. “It’s great to see people all over the world rallying around red pandas,” Boyd said.
Holly Alyssa MacCormick
Writing and Communications Volunteer
Red Panda Network
*Photo at top of page from Greenville Zoo.
First in Nepal, and most recently Bhutan, governments are committing to red panda conservation in range countries.
On July 31, 2019, people and charities all over the world celebrated World Ranger Day. This day honors the critical work of rangers to protect our planet’s wildlife and natural resources. For many endangered species—including the red panda—the enforcement of national laws by local authorities is critical for survival. It’s no coincidence that July 31st was the same day Bhutan launched a five-year action plan to conserve red pandas.
Red Pandas are endangered. While their numbers seem to be improving in Red Panda Network’s (RPN) project areas in Eastern Nepal, the species continues to face imminent threats to their survival in red panda range countries. The primary threats are habitat loss and fragmentation, which are being driven by poverty, growing human population and a paucity of adequate conservation programs.
Fortunately, governments in range countries are beginning to recognize the need for national red panda conservation strategies. This change has been gradual, but a movement is growing.
The commitment to protect red pandas originated in Nepal: In September of 2018, Nepal launched a five-year red panda conservation action (2019-2023). This was the first of such guidelines that provide a thorough framework for engaging local communities and strengthening coordination among conservation actors at national and international levels.
“This is an exciting achievement,” says RPN’s Country Director, Ang Phuri Sherpa. “To have clear objectives and methodologies at a country-level—that can be replicated by other range countries—is a big step towards preserving pandas for future generations.”
RPN played a key role in advocating for and developing the plan. We are also helping to ensure its effective implementation under the leadership of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation and Department of Forest and Soil Conservation of the government of Nepal.
In Bhutan, the presence of red panda has been confirmed in seventeen districts; including seven of the ten protected areas, and eight of the nine biological corridors (within the altitudinal range of 2000 meters to 4300 meters above sea level). However, population status and density are unknown. The action plan aims to conduct extensive research to understand red panda population dynamics, ecological roles, socio-cultural significance, breeding behaviors, and movement ecology.
“I am confident that this action plan will be a guiding document to all concerned stakeholders of red panda conservation,” says Rinzin Dorji, secretary, Ministry of Agriculture and Forests, Bhutan.
The action plan emphasizes habitat management and protection, conservation education, strengthening local red panda stewardship, rural livelihood enhancement, and improved coordination among stakeholders. The plan also identifies increased developmental activities, unsustainable livestock grazing and harvest of non-timber forest products, and subsistence agriculture as the drivers of threats to red panda.
“It is encouraging to see range countries come together to conserve red panda,” says Sherpa of RPN.
One of the key objectives highlighted in both Nepal and Bhutan’s action plans are strengthening trans-boundary collaboration to conserve red panda. Red panda habitat often expands multiple countries and their survival is threatened by illegal wildlife trade through routes that are transboundary and interconnected. For instance, red panda habitat in Nepal extends into China in the north and India in the south, and this connectivity facilitates the trafficking of wildlife, including red pandas. Poaching of red panda is not yet reported in Bhutan, however, accidental killing by poachers while hunting highly prized musk deer and predation from free-roaming dogs are reported from the field.
“The plan aims to identify transboundary red panda habitat corridors and carry out threat analysis for initiating regional landscape-level conservation programs,” says Dr. Joanna Miller who provided inputs during the development of Bhutan’s red panda conservation action plan. Miller is a senior research fellow, Environment and Livelihoods at Charles Sturt University, Australia.
Since April of this year, nearly 70 people have joined our Panda Guardian team—kicking off 2019 as a pivotal year for guarding red pandas from extinction.
In 2006, Red Panda Network (RPN) initiated the Red Panda Project or Project Punde Kundo (red panda is locally known as Punde Kundo) in the Panchthar-Ilam-Taplejung (PIT) Corridor of Eastern Nepal to conduct the first-ever monitoring of red pandas in their wild habitat.
Fourteen local people villages in Ilam and Panchthar were selected as the first Forest Guardians (FGs) by the Red Panda Project. The goal of the FG program was to engage and empower community members to safeguard their forests and protect a rare and endangered mammal of the Himalayas: the red panda.
The goals of the FG program have not changed and has since grown to 100 members! The program has also expanded to seven additional districts in Western Nepal and now extends to nearly one million acres of forest and 50% of Nepal's red panda range.
This level of growth has been made possible by the generosity and commitment of RPN’s Panda Guardian team.
Panda Guardian is the title given to RPN’s monthly donors. Their continuous support allows RPN to commit to lasting and sustainable conservation initiatives in red panda countries. In 2018, Panda Guardians raised $23,643 for red pandas and in 2019 we are on track to surpass this amount.
This is huge for the FG program which is the cornerstone for RPN’s community-based approach and sustainable livelihood initiatives. The Panda Guardian team directly supports FG salaries and capacity-building trainings.
“Being able to count on the support of our Panda Guardians has been important to our progress,” said Ang Phuri Sherpa, RPN’s Country Director in Nepal. “ We can now implement long-term projects and as a result our impact in Nepal is bigger than ever.”
Panda Guardian members are often deeply passionate about conserving red pandas and get further involved in a number of ways including volunteering with RPN, celebrating at—and even organizing—International Red Panda Day events, as well as attending ecotrips in Nepal.
“I support the Red Panda Network because of their holistic approach to conservation, including on-ground research and monitoring, advocacy and education,” says a Panda Guardian member named Veronica from Australia. “I especially admire their community-based conservation model, harnessing the knowledge and passion of local people to protect and enhance red panda habitat, in turn improving the livelihoods of communities living in those areas.”
The model Veronica is referring to was developed in the PIT Corridor which is being established as the PIT Red Panda Protected Forest: the world’s first protected area dedicated to red pandas! This community conservation approach has now been replicated in Western Nepal where red pandas were unprotected and facing local extinction.
“I can't imagine a world without red pandas, and I'm so grateful that organisations like the Red Panda Network are fighting to keep these beautiful and unique species in the wild,” continues Veronica.
Of course, like Veronica, most of our recurring donors give because they want red pandas to be around—in the wild—for future generations. For their dedication to conservation, Panda Guardians now qualify for a 15% discount at the Red Panda Store, which includes organic tea and earrings. We are also in the process of offering exclusive bi-monthly calls with the RPN field team in Nepal. These PG Conservation Calls will give Panda Guardian members the opportunity to ask questions and learn more about the conservation work their donations are supporting.
She witnessed the forests being decimated; now, she fights to protect them as RPN’s first female Forest Guardian in Western Nepal.
Shanti Malla grew up in the rural hills of Dailekh district in Western Nepal. She remembers venturing into the forests to gather fuelwood and graze livestock. Sometimes Malla would cross paths with villagers who were hunting wildlife like barking deer, wild boar and ghoral for meat. The forests were essential to the livelihoods of Dailekh villagers.
At age 17, Malla got married and came to live in Mahawai village in neighboring Kalikot district. Once again, she found herself in a similar scenario where herself, and everyone around her, heavily depended on the forest for their daily needs.
“The forest is our lifeline—I cannot imagine our day-to-day lives without it,” says Malla, “At the same time, this kind of excessive use of resources contributes to forest degradation and loss of wildlife.”
The forests near Mahawai village—along with many districts in Western Nepal—were being decimated by Illegal logging and timber collection. Hunting of wildlife for meat remained unchecked and resources were being extracted at unsustainable rates. “Our water sources began to dry out,” Malla said.
Recognizing the problems, members of Him Kalika Community Forest (HKCF), which covers 241 hectares of land, took steps to revive the disappearing forests. They planted trees on denuded hilltops, appointed locals to protect the forests, and raised awareness about the importance of forests and how to utilize resources sustainably. The community also controlled the movement of people going inside the forests for timber collection and discouraged locals from hunting forest wildlife. Malla was one of the active members of Him Kalika Community Forest User Group (HKCFUG) in Mahawai Rural Municipality.
In 2017, Malla was elected as HKCFUG secretary and two later promoted to become the first female FG in Western Nepal. Red Panda Network (RPN), in collaboration with local partner organizations’ Himalayan Community Resource Development Center (HCRDC) and Human Rights and Environmental Development Center (HuRENDEC) selected Malla as a Forest Guardian (FG) to protect red pandas and their habitat in Kalikot.
We were informed that our forests were home to the endangered red panda, and that this species needed immediate protection,” Malla said. “I wasn’t aware of red pandas; I was curious to know more.”
Malla, along with nine other newly selected FGs (all male members) from five community forests in Kalikot district, took part in a three-day capacity-building training organized by RPN and partner organizations: HCRDC and HuRENDEC. Participants learned the importance of red pandas to the Himalayan ecosystem, wildlife monitoring techniques, and GPS handling. They were taught how to prepare blocks and transects for red panda monitoring. In April of 2019, the newly selected FGs from Kalikot established four monitoring blocks in four community forests.
“I’m really proud to be a part of the FG program. I hope to continue to work to protect forests and help save red pandas,” Malla said.
RPN’s national FG team consists of active members of Community Forest User Groups operating inside red panda range in 10 districts in Nepal. They support red panda conservation through multiple activities, such as monitoring red panda populations and habitat, education and outreach, forest protection, restoration and sustainable management; anti-poaching investigation, and threat identification and mitigation. Most of the forests they work in are located outside of protected areas in Nepal.
In April of this year, RPN celebrated one of the organization’s most significant achievements—reaching 100 FGs in Nepal! The celebration will continue with the replanting of 7 hectares of degraded core red panda habitat in Jajarkot, Jumla and Kalikot districts of Western Nepal.
Out of 100 members, only seven FGs are female.
“The involvement of local women in red panda conservation is pivotal to our success. Unfortunately, due to cultural constraints, we have not been able to hire more female FGs,” says Saroj Shrestha, RPN’s Project Coordinator in Western Nepal. “RPN is committed to changing this." Learn more in the article 'The Changing Role Of Women In Red Panda Conservation.'
Poverty is rife in the rural villages of Western Nepal. In order to support their family, male members migrate to neighboring India in search of menial jobs. This leaves women with the responsibility of taking care of the daily needs of their families.
“We protect forests and wildlife for our children. If there are no trees, there is no life” says Malla.
Click here for more information and opportunities to support our FG program—including sponsorship of Shanti Malla!
Some at-risk species suffer from a lack of public attention and awareness. In the case of the red panda, too much misguided attention may be doing them harm by encouraging the black market trade of red panda pets.
Recently, reports have surfaced of wild red pandas in cages, presumably captured for the exotic pet trade. In January 2018, six red pandas were rescued from smugglers in Laos, and it’s believed there are other instances of smuggled red pandas that have yet to be detected.
In September 2018, the Red Panda Network launched a comprehensive campaign to halt the illegal trade of red pandas. In addition to exposing the illegal red panda supply chain, a critical part of this effort is educating the public on the reasons why wild red pandas must remain wild, and encouraging them to help us to spread the word so we can cease the demand for red panda pets. (Top photo: Patrick aka Herjolf/Flickr)
Why red pandas shouldn’t be pets
Caring for a red panda is nothing like caring for a dog or cat, red panda expert and conservationist Angela Glaston explained to me in an email.
Red pandas are wild animals built for life outdoors and their nails are made to stay sharp so they can climb and cling to trees. Since their nails don’t retract into their paw pads like the nails of a cat, or quickly become blunt like the nails of a dog, “a red panda in someone’s home or apartment would shred furniture, curtains, and clothes,” Glaston said.
Life as a pet would be hard on a red panda’s health too, as they have thick fur suited to their native habitat and highly specialized diets consisting mostly of fresh bamboo shoots and leaf tips.
“They would be too warm to feel comfortable,” Glaston explained. “A private individual cannot really provide either the accommodation or the diet that they need. Their lives will be shorter and miserable as a pet.”
Moreover, buying a red panda is illegal. “Red pandas are protected by law in the countries where they originate. They may not be captured or killed legally,” Glaston said.
Red pandas are also protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This means a legal certificate must be issued before a red panda can be transported across international boundaries. A legal certificate will be issued if a red panda is going to a zoo as part of a breeding program, but not if they are to be sold as a pet, Glaston explained. “Therefore, any red panda you may buy is illegal.”
How the black market pet trade impacts red panda populations
Little is known about how red pandas are obtained for the black market pet trade, or which groups of red pandas are most vulnerable to the illegal pet trade, Glaston explained.
The potential impact of the black market trade is more certain for the small population of wild red pandas that’s estimated to be as few as 2,500 individuals.
“Even small scale exploitation could wipe out an area of red pandas in their already fragmented habitat,” Glaston said.
How red pandas in zoos differ from red panda pets
Red pandas in zoos play an active role in the conservation of their species. Domesticated pets are isolated (either in a home or apartment, or because they’ve been neutered or spayed) and don’t intermix with their larger population. In contrast, red pandas in zoos are interconnected as part of a worldwide breeding program of more than 600 Nepalese red pandas and 300 Chinese red pandas in zoos outside of China, Glaston explained.
This breeding program is important because it helps maintain genetically diverse, demographically viable, and behaviorally natural populations of the two red panda subspecies, Glaston said.
“They are an educational resource, they help raise funds for conservation, and form a valuable reserve population for reintroduction and restocking should that be necessary,” Glaston said.
“A pet red panda does none of these things,” Glaston continued. “It is not part of any managed population, it does not help raise money for conservation, there is no educational message, and its behavior would be far from natural,”
Any red panda kept as a pet is removed from both wild and captive breeding populations of the species. “Its genetic material is lost to an already depleted wild population,” Glaston said.
How you can help
You can help stop the illegal red panda trade by sharing what you’ve learned here with others, and by being a red panda and zoo advocate.
Few people would want a red panda as a pet if they understood that owning them was harmful for the red panda’s health, and the red panda population as a whole. Educate your family, friends, and the public about the importance of keeping red pandas wild. Let people know it’s illegal to buy a red panda and communicate the harms of removing wild red pandas from already dwindling populations. Helping people understand the disastrous effects of the illegal red panda trade can end the demand for red panda pets.
You can also be a red panda and zoo advocate by teaching others about the important role red pandas in zoos play in conservation efforts and by promoting the Red Panda Network’s #NoPandaPets campaign on social media. If you see a photo or video of red pandas that promotes the idea of having a red panda as a pet, use it as an opportunity to educate others by posting our downloadable Fast Facts #NoPandaPets images in the comments section of the post. This downloadable image contains key facts about the illegal red panda pet trade and why we should keep red pandas wild.
Holly Alyssa MacCormick
Writing and Communications Volunteer
Red Panda Network
Why red pandas shouldn't be pets
Please share these #NoPandaPets images on your social media!