• 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!

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  • 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 'Paaru' with GPS collar.  © James Houston/RPN
    ​Red panda 'Paaru' with GPS collar. © James Houston/RPN

    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!

  • Press Release: Ten Red Pandas Collared in Nepal For Groundbreaking Study

    > Download a PDF of the Press Release

    Kathmandu, Nepal Ten wild red pandas have been equipped with GPS-satellite collars in the Panchthar-Ilam-Taplejung (PIT) Corridor: a belt of forest that connects protected areas in Nepal and India. This is Nepal’s first red panda GPS collar study.

    Led by the Ministry of Forests and Environment, Department of Forests and Soil Conservation (DoFSC), and Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC), and in collaboration with Red Panda Network (RPN), the red panda collar study took three months (September to December 2019) to complete in Sandakpur Rural Municipality of Ilam district, eastern Nepal. Six females and four males were successfully collared. 

    The collaring project was facilitated by the country’s first five-year (2019-2023) action plan for red pandas. RPN collaborated with the government of Nepal in the development of the action plan.  

    The research team consisted of officials from the Divisional Forest Office, Ilam, DoFSC, DNPWC; Purushottam Pandey, Veterinary Officer at the Directorate of Livestock and Fisheries (DLF), Janno Weerman, the Zoological Manager at Rotterdam Zoo and Red Panda EAZA Ex-situ Program Coordinator; and RPN’s Damber Bista, a Ph.D. student at the University of Queensland in Australia who is also the principal investigator of this research—as well as RPN’s Forest Guardian, conservation and research teams. 

    “This is a great milestone in red panda conservation”, says Man Bahadur Khadka, Director General of the DOFSC. “We assure the protection and conservation of this charismatic species whose survival is mainly threatened by anthropogenic factors.” 

    Paaru, the first red panda to be GPS collared in Nepal on September 22, 2019. © Sonam Tashi Lama/Red Panda Network
    Paaru, the first red panda to be GPS collared in Nepal on September 22, 2019. © Sonam Tashi Lama/Red Panda Network

    Photo 2: Paaru, the first red panda to be GPS collared in Nepal on September 22, 2019. © Sonam Tashi Lama/Red Panda Network

    Photo 1 (top of page): Mechhachha, collared on December 4, 2019. © Damber Bista/Red Panda Network/Queensland University

    With global estimates at less than 10,000 individuals surviving in the wild, the red panda is categorized as an endangered mammal on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. Red pandas serve as an indicator species of their Eastern Himalayan temperate forest habitat—one of our planet’s biodiversity hotspots—as their occurrence is related to canopy cover and bamboo abundance. Red pandas are the only extant member of their taxonomic family, and according to Dr. Angela Glatston, Global Species Management Plan Convener and the Chair of RPN’s Board of Directors, if they were to become extinct that would be, at least taxonomically, “like losing the whole cat family, from lions to domestic cats.” 

    The collar study is an important component of RPN’s long-term monitoring initiative. It will not only provide critical baseline data on red panda ecology, distribution, and behavior in the wild but will also apprise stakeholders with valuable insight into landscape-level conservation efforts required to manage biological corridors. “This is a proud moment for us to have the opportunity to fulfill one of the objectives of Nepal’s Red Panda Conservation Action Plan”, comments Ang Phuri Sherpa, RPN’s Country Director in Nepal. 

    “This study aims to better understand how red pandas interact in human-dominated landscapes. The collars are programmed to record data every two hours which will be transferred via a satellite system for one year. The data will help us get a better insight into their movement and space-use pattern, social behavior, and their response to disturbances.”, says Damber Bista. 

    The study is being generously funded by Rotterdam Zoo who continues to have an essential role in red panda research and conservation. In 1978, they launched the international red panda studbook and have been coordinating it ever since. 

    ​Red panda 'Paaru' with GPS collar.  © James Houston/RPN
    ​Red panda 'Paaru' with GPS collar. © James Houston/RPN

    This is the first time GPS-satellite collars are being used to study red pandas in the wild. During the 1980s, the pioneer red panda biologist from Nepal, the late Pralad Yonzon, used VHF technology to study red pandas in Langtang National Park, central Nepal.

    Prior to RPN’s collar study, the GPS collars were tested with two captive red pandas at the Rotterdam Zoo to evaluate their effectiveness and any possible disruption of the animal’s movement or behavior. The collar devices were found to be effective with no disruption. 

    “Rotterdam Zoo finds it very important that in-situ and ex-situ conservationists work together to protect the red panda and their habitat. Part of this cooperation is the GPS collaring research. Our zoo is supporting this research because the results of this research will give us more insight into the ecology of the species that helps us to take more specific measurements to protect the red panda and their natural habitat,” says Janno Weerman, the Zoological Manager at the Rotterdam Zoo and Red Panda EAZA Ex-situ Program Coordinator. Janno was also involved in RPN’s collar study in 2019 where he primarily trained Nepali researchers on the safe handling of the animal. 

    The collars provide exceptional data on the movement and habitat use of the red pandas. RPN’s Forest Guardians also use VHF tracking devices and utilize camera traps to collect additional data. The red pandas were named Paaru, Dolma, Chintapu, Mechhachha, Bhumo, Senehang, Ngima, Brian, Ninamma, and Praladdevi by local people (including Forest Guardians); the names represent culture, landscape, language, and ethnicity of the region. The name Praladdevi was given in tribute to Pralad Yonzon.

    RPN is working with Divisional Forest Offices and more than sixty Community Forests with active conservation programs in ten districts in Nepal. 

    For further information contact: Madhuri Karki Thapa, Under Secretary, Department of Forests and Soil Conservation, Government of Nepal, Phone: +977 1 4221231, Email: madhureethapa@gmail.com

    Sonam Tashi Lama, Program Coordinator, Mobile: +977 9841843968, Email: sonam.lama@redpandanetwork.or

    Print and broadcast media contact:

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

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  • Red Panda Conservation Scholarships for Education

    Poverty creates challenges for students in Nepal but Red Panda Network supporters — led by a dedicated team of monthly donors — are making a difference with important education scholarships.

    According to UNICEF,  more than a third of Nepal’s 12.6 million children live below the national poverty line. 

    While significant progress has been made in Nepal’s education system — enrolment rates are 97% for primary school-age children and most communities in Nepal have a school — poverty can be a substantial deterrent to children excelling in school and advancing to secondary school and beyond. 

    Kidasha says that 45% of children in Nepal drop out before they reach secondary school.  

    Poverty contributes to dropouts among disadvantaged families who often need their children to work instead of attending school. Another obstacle for these students is the cost of school supplies. 

    Recipients of Red Panda Conservation Scholarships for Education in Eastern Nepal.
    Recipients of Red Panda Conservation Scholarships for Education in Eastern Nepal.

    The Red Panda Conservation Scholarships for Education program was started in 2019 to provide financial support and necessary school supplies to the children and siblings of Forest Guardians, as well as students from partner schools with Roots & Shoots Groups. 

    Scholarship recipients are selected based on merit by a committee of teachers (as well as a local leader and community members) and are available to students in grades six and seven. We distributed 94 scholarships in 2019: 45 students from the Panchthar, Ilam and Taplejung (PIT) corridor of eastern Nepal and 49 students in western Nepal’s Kalikot, Jumla, and Jajarkot districts. 

    One of these students is Sarmila Pariyar, a 13-year-old from Mahawai Rural Municipality of Kalikot district, western Nepal. Sarmila is from a low-income family where her mother is involved in cultivating crops and raising livestock and her father is a blacksmith. 

    Sarmila is a sixth-grade student at Shree Dev Secondary School in Mahawai Rural Municipality. She spends most of her time looking after her two younger sisters and helping her mother with household chores. She loves Deuada, which are indigenous songs and dance from western Nepal. Sarmila first became engaged in red panda conservation through her school's eco-club activities

    13-year-old Sarmila Pariyar from Mahawai Rural Municipality.
    13-year-old Sarmila Pariyar from Mahawai Rural Municipality.

     "All of the eco-club members, including me, relish to write poems, stories, essays and draw art to portray the importance of conservation on the red panda bulletin," shared Sarmila during an interview with Red Panda Network (RPN) Conservation Officer, Dinesh Ghale. 

    The Red Panda Bulletin Sarmila is referring to is part of RPN’s youth outreach and education initiatives. We work with students of Roots and Shoots Groups and eco-clubs who publish a Red Panda Bulletin every three months. They collect stories, poems, songs, and artworks related to red pandas (and other wildlife) from other students under the supervision of a teacher and publish them in the bulletin. The goal of this activity was to educate and engage students in wildlife conservation. 

    "Undoubtedly, the perception of wildlife conservation among students has changed for the better in recent years," said Sarmila. “I will surely be involved in future conservation events by RPN.” 

    Being born into a poor family, Sarmila’s family is not able to support her education. She is very grateful to RPN for the scholarship and for providing important educational materials such as notebooks, pens, geometry sets, and book bags.

     “This is like our festival gift," added Sarmila with a cheeky grin.

    Eco-club during education activities.
    Eco-club during education activities.
    RPN distributed 94 scholarships in 2019!
    RPN distributed 94 scholarships in 2019!

    RPN’s goal is 116 scholarships in 2020. 

    The education scholarship program is an example of RPN’s multi-tiered approach to conservation that enhances local livelihoods while educating communities and fostering red panda stewardship. These programs are made possible by RPN members, partners, and a dedicated group of monthly supporters we proudly call Panda Guardians.

    "The scholarship program is new for the students of our project area and it has helped them to be motivated and engaged in red panda conservation. The program is highly appreciated by the local council members. I see this as the start for creating future conservation leaders who will take responsibility for protecting the environment", commented Sunil Banatawa to Dinesh. Sunil is the Executive Director of the Deep Jyoti Youth Club (DJYC); DJYC is our field partner in Panchthar district of eastern Nepal.  

    "Supporting the People Among the Pandas" with Forest Guardian, Prem Sherpa, by Laura Finnegan.
  • A Trip to the Zoo Becomes a Boon to Red Pandas Worldwide

    An Animal Park and an Endowment Fund Team Up for Conservation.

    When visitors to Parc Animalier d’Auvergne, a zoo in south-central France, paid admission in 2019, they not only paid to see the animals, they contributed to wildlife conservation.

    Thanks to a joint project called Euro Nature, Parc Animalier d’Auvergne and the endowment fund La Passerelle Conservation were able to surpass their fundraising objective for the year. Red Panda Network (RPN) was among the beneficiaries of this bounty, receiving a total of 19,477.50€ (more than $21,000.00) from both organizations in December 2019.

    "Our 2019 goal was to collect 100,000€ to support in situ conservation projects such as Red Panda Network,” said Laura de Cazanove, a French Civic Service volunteer serving as project manager and communications officer for La Passerelle Conservation, via email. “We were very happy to achieve this goal and even surpass it with a total of more than 103,000€ collected! We would never have had the opportunity to reach this amount without the launching of ‘Euro Nature’, which is one euro for conservation collected on each entry ticket sold by the Parc Animalier d'Auvergne since February 2019.” The Euro Nature initiative represented 63% of the total funds raised.

    "Their support is critical in a year that is uncertain for nonprofits,” said Terrance Fleming, development manager for Red Panda Network. “La Passerelle Conservation and Parc Animalier d’Auvergne continue to demonstrate their commitment to conservation, and we are truly thankful for that."

    Due to Euro Nature’s success, two wildlife parks in southern France have decided to take part in the initiative, which will help La Passerelle Conservation grow its donations and increase support for other conservation programs, de Cazanove said.

    auvergne-2019atteint-2

    According to its website, Parc Animalier d’Auvergne donates 20,000€ each year to La Passerelle Conservation. The endowment fund, itself, is the fruit of a collaboration between the zoo and French former professional rugby player Julien Pierre. Founded in 2013, the fund supports more than a dozen local and international conservation projects, including the Snow Leopard Trust, the Giraffe Conservation Foundation and Free the Bears.

    Upon receiving its first red pandas in 2015, Parc Animalier d’Auvergne wanted to link their arrival with an in situ conservation project, de Cazanove said. “Red Panda Network has a very serious conservation project of this species in its natural environment and has been strongly recommended by other zoos that support it. Parc Animalier d'Auvergne and La Passerelle Conservation have decided to support them due to this extremely good reputation and its actions in wildlife.”

    That support is likely to continue, as Parc Animalier d’Auvergne and La Passerelle Conservation have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with RPN until the year 2022, de Cazanove said. “The team will be delighted to continue supporting the association and renew the contract with them for years to come.”

    Funds will support RPN's anti-poaching networks and other community conservation programs in Western Nepal.
    Funds will support RPN's anti-poaching networks and other community conservation programs in Western Nepal.

    Such partnerships were made possible through the increase in donations, memberships and visitors to Parc Animalier d’Auvergne in recent years. That, in turn, was the result of one of the things La Passerelle does well: outreach. “One of our major strengths is our widespread communication on social media and through our website, allowing us to reach a greater audience, from all generations and beyond borders,” de Cazanove said. “We often interact with our community online, share information on our conservation projects and encourage contributions.”

    La Passerelle Conservation and Parc Animalier d’Auvergne are depending on their strengths as they face the challenges ahead. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the zoo has been closed since March 15 and will remain closed until at least July 14, as reported here. The zoo, itself, is asking for donations on its website, and park director Pascal Damois has publicly expressed concern about the park’s financial future.

    “La Passerelle Conservation and Parc Animalier d’Auvergne strive to maintain their financial objective for the year 2020, but this crisis context constrained the French zoo to cease its activity since the middle of March 2020,” said de Cazanove. “Many events organized by both the Parc and La Passerelle Conservation were cancelled.”

    Others have been postponed. The zoo planned to have the first “Championnat de France de Shifumi” (Shifumi French Championship) to commemorate the first birthday of its red panda Shifumi in June. “Shifumi” is one of several French names for the Rock, Paper, Scissors game. 

    The first red panda born in Auvergne animal park was named Shifumi. / © Marie Demoulin
    The first red panda born in Auvergne animal park was named Shifumi. / © Marie Demoulin

    The event is now scheduled to take place in September to coincide with International Red Panda Day. Registration fees collected will go to La Passerelle Conservation for its 2020 support of RPN. “We sincerely hope that we will be able to keep this event,” de Cazanove said. “Everything will depend on the health measures in force in France at that time.”

    Despite these obstacles, the two organizations continue to plan for the future. “The year 2020 is likely to be a milestone for the future of La Passerelle Conservation,” de Cazanove said. “Notwithstanding the Covid-19 situation, plans are to consolidate Euro Nature, especially with a long-term establishment of additional partnerships with major groups and companies in the future.”

    Achieving this objective would allow La Passerelle Conservation and Parc Animalier d’Auvergne to pursue even more ambitious goals, such as creating a full-time position at La Passerelle Conservation, she said. “The main objective remains to sustain financial aid for conservation programs and/or support existing ones as intended.”

    Dawn Peterson
    Writing and Communications Volunteer
    Red Panda Network

  • A Photo Within A Photo Within A Photo: The Cosmic Side of Red Panda Conservation

    The first female Forest Guardian breaks through cultural barriers and inspires women all over the world as a conservation hero to all.

    “I’ll do whatever it takes to protect Red Pandas.”

    Menuka Bhattarai says this in Gunjan Menon’s award-winning film, The Firefox Guardian, and I believe her. 

    As I watch this remarkable film for the dozenth time or so, I am once again filled with emotion and awe. Menuka’s connection with the endangered red panda and her determination to save them — despite the adversity she has faced as a woman in Nepal — is soul-stirring. And I can see that my daughter feels it too. 

    Emerson or “Emmy”, my nearly-six-year-old daughter, saw the film for the first time at Red Panda Network (RPN)’s Red Panda Mini Film Festival in Eugene, Oregon in April of 2018. After that, Emmy was hooked and her sweet and tiny voice would regularly make requests like “Can we watch the movie about Menuka?” 

    “Of course we can”, was the response I wanted to have every time she asked because let’s face it, is there a better person for my Emmy to look up to than Menuka? Having been a father for nearly six years, I can confidently say, ‘no, there isn’t.’

    Menuka Bhattari: the Firefox Guardian.
    Menuka Bhattari: the Firefox Guardian.

    In December of 2018, we released Menuka Bhattarai: The Firefox Guardian, an article about “RPN's first female Forest Guardian — and the focus of the award-winning documentary The Firefox Guardian — shares her story and how she fell in love with the endangered red panda.” 

    While reading (and writing) the article I couldn’t help but notice the differences between Menuka’s life and Emmy’s. Menuka grew up in rural Nepal while the location of Emmy’s childhood is in semi-rural Oregon. While women in the United States are more likely than men to face obstacles to their chosen career paths, it is probably not on the same level of oppression that Menuka has experienced. 

    “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. 

    When I would read the subtitles to Emmy, we would often share a solemn look during this scene. She understood how tragic this reality is, as well as how incredible Menuka is for pursuing her dreams despite these obstacles. 

    One of my gifts to Emmy on Christmas of 2018 was a framed photograph of Menuka. Her reaction was unforgettable.

    Emmy with her Christmas present.
    Emmy with her Christmas present.

    I took a photo of Emmy holding the photograph of Menuka and emailed it to Gunjan (the creator of The Firefox Guardian) and her reaction too was heartwarming: 

    Thank you so much for sharing this precious story!!!!!! It made my day. I'm so so touched and happy to read it. So beautiful that Menuka is inspiring little girls...I'm sure she'll [Emmy] grow up to be a strong ambassador for wildlife.”

    I also sent the photo of Emmy with the photo of Menuka to RPN’s team in Nepal and they had the same encouraging response. I asked if they could share the photo with Menuka and they said they would happily frame and send this photo to her.

    Menuka lives in the remote and rural village of Phawakhola in Taplejung district, the most eastern part of our project area in Nepal. I wasn’t sure exactly how long the trip was from Kathmandu to Phawakhola but I was confident it wasn’t short, nor easy. But only weeks later I received this photo from our Program Coordinator, Sonam Tashi Lama: 

    Menuka Bhattari with local colleague holding a photo of Emmy holding a photo of Menuka.
    Menuka Bhattari with local colleague holding a photo of Emmy holding a photo of Menuka.

    A video of Menuka holding the photo was included in the email from Sonam who translated Menuka’s message to Emmy:

    “Nameste Emmy! I received the photo you sent. Thank you very much for sending this. I hope to see you in the future.” 

    I instantly smiled, teared-up, and showed the video to Emmy who insisted on repeatedly watching the video of Menuka holding the photo of Emmy holding the photo of Menuka. 

    It’s hard to express what this story means to me; the depth it reaches into my humanity. It obviously has a meta-like quality with the photo within the photo within the photo but it’s so much more substantial than that — and I know my daughter feels it too.

    When I first became aware of The Firefox Guardian, I learned that Gunjan was initially inspired by the article The Changing Role of Women in Red Panda Conservation, written by RPN volunteer, Shane Downing, in October of 2016. I immediately shared this with Shane who replied:

    “This made my day. Thank you so much for sharing. I'm happy that Gunjan is working on this project and can't wait to see the final product. 

    I'm tearing up over here.”

    I’m noticing a trend. 

    Menuka (L) and Gunjan (R) during filming of The Firefox Guardian.
    Menuka (L) and Gunjan (R) during filming of The Firefox Guardian.

    Gunjan reached out to me in July of 2019 and asked if she could share the photo of Emmy holding the photo of Menuka, “It's just endearing to see little girls getting inspired and means so much to me!” Of course, I consented.

    To me, this story is about how we can inspire each other when we are answering the same call-to-action. How deeply unifying and fulfilling this connection can be.  When Menuka defied the odds and became a wildlife warrior for red pandas, her passion and courage rippled throughout the world for women to see that not only anything is possible, but there is an unbelievable — evidently cosmic — network of people all over the world ready to support you and be inspired by you.

    Gunjan calls her film ‘a conservation love story’ and I couldn’t agree more. I believe the cosmic side of all of these events is love. A shared love for the same creature which fuels our collective insistence, despite the obstacles, to have red pandas remain on our planet.

    “I still feel the same love every time I see a red panda”, Menuka says in The Firefox Guardian, teary-eyed, after discovering a young red panda she’d been traversing the Himalayan foothills in search of throughout the film.

    As I write this, tears are welling up in my eyes, because I believe her, and I know Emmy feels the same way.

    Terrance Fleming
    Development Manager
    Red Panda Network

    Ps. Emmy is now Reading for Red Pandas! Click here to see her fundraising page.

  • Zoo Atlanta Honors Idgie By Saving Red Pandas In The Wild

    Idgie was an ambassador for her species who inspired people to join Zoo Atlanta in conserving red pandas in the wild.

    This spring, Zoo Atlanta lost a favorite resident: Idgie, a red panda, who passed away shortly before reaching fourteen years of age—a long life by red panda standards, but too short for her fans among the zoo’s patrons and staff.

    Even by the standards of her charismatic species, Idgie had a big personality—a lively, bold spirit who made her likes and dislikes clear. She learned to ask (through pointed stares) to enter her behind-the-scenes area and would bleat (also pointedly) when she was ready for food. A food lover like all red pandas, her adoration of grapes made her easy to train, although she may have thought she was training her keepers to give her grapes if they wanted her cooperation. Grapes also solved a minor problem when Idgie trapped a bird that had entered her enclosure. Remembering her carnivore heritage, she prepared to eat it, but given the small but serious risk of wild animals passing disease to zoo specimens, her keepers had to offer a trade. She happily ditched her prey for some grapes.

    Zoo Atlanta's veterinary team winning Idgie over with grapes.
    Zoo Atlanta's veterinary team winning Idgie over with grapes.

    Idgie’s training paid off as she aged, and her regular checkups expanded to included treatments for arthritis. Her care team enacted a care plan and some remodeling to keep her comfortable and happy in her golden years adding ramps, stairs, and platforms in her habitat to allow her to remain arboreal without having to climb. When she could no longer get up her tree, the horticulture team added more greenery to give her hidey-holes to cozy up in. She also had a cooled nesting box, an ideal respite from Southern summers. Idgie had a long, comfortable life at Zoo Atlanta, and she repaid her keepers and zoo guests with her sparkle and charm. She will be remembered and missed.

    Idgie was an admirable ambassador for her species—but we have no doubt her successor will do an excellent job. Zoo Atlanta’s red panda enclosure makes a roomy home for one panda; perfectly acceptable for this species that keeps to itself in the wild, and the perfect home for an individual animal that, for whatever reason, is not a good candidate for breeding but who can serve to raise awareness of their species. Once Zoo Atlanta is ready to welcome a new red panda, they can consult the Species Survival Plan of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which will be able to find a good candidate for the zoo’s facilities and needs. The process can be lengthy, but ensures that placements are made in the best interests of individual pandas and the species as a whole.

    Zoo Atlanta's red panda Idgie giving us a view of her toungue.
    Zoo Atlanta's red panda Idgie giving us a view of her toungue.

    Any new panda that arrives will help draw attention to Zoo Atlanta’s support for Red Panda Network’s conservation efforts in Nepal and annual celebration of International Red Panda Day. Until then, Zoo Atlanta can continue its conservation and education memories while cherishing the memories of an especially beloved member of our favorite species.

    Zoo Atlanta has been an important supporter of Red Panda Network for nearly a decade. 2019’s generous gift of almost $12,000 included $5,000 for the Plant A Red Panda Home initiative, which will restore at least 32 hectares of degraded core red panda habitat in Nepal with more than 30,000 native trees. This funding supported activities including the purchase of 22 acres of private land that, once restored, will serve as part of a forest corridor connecting protected habitats in Nepal and India, as well as the establishment of a forest conservation nursery that will produce 20,000 native plants to support local community forests and their users and serve as red panda habitat and forage. Even as Zoo Atlanta houses one lucky red panda at a time, they’re working to make sure wild red pandas have safe homes too.

    Forest restoration in Eastern Nepal.
    Forest restoration in Eastern Nepal.

    Chris Turner-Neal
    Writing and Communications Volunteer
    Red Panda Network

  • 5 Ways You Can Celebrate Earth Day 2020 and Save Red Pandas during Quarantine

    Red pandas may thrive in solitude but many of us are likely feeling the restlessness that comes with shelter-in-place. Here are 5 ways you can create change from the comfort of your own home!

    1. Become a Red Panda Ranger!
    Looking for something fun and educational to do with your child at home? Join RPN Ranger "Charu" on her mission to raise red panda awareness!

    A Red Panda Ranger is a special title given to children who help spread the word about red pandas. To become a Red Panda Ranger your child will “climb” five mountains by completing the activities for each mountain. Every time they complete a level your child will receive an official badge and after they complete all five levels your child will receive a personalized certificate and will officially be a Red Panda Ranger!
    Charu loves adventures!
    Charu loves adventures!

    2. Educate and Advocate
    Sharing the message that red pandas not only exist but are unique, important and endangeredand are not pets — is critical right now. The popularity of this species is growing and lots of people are probably aware of how cute red pandas are, but they might not know how urgent it is to fight for their conservation!

    Raising awareness, remotely, has never been easier with social media and we have lots of shareable resources for you to share with your friends!

    Also, we have exciting news; your support doesn't have to stop at outreach! Even in quarantine, you can make a massive impact by joining our team of advocates and raising funds for red panda conservation.
    You can also quickly create a fundraiser on Facebook!

    Birthday coming up? Have your very own panda party!

    Please share with your friends!
    Please share with your friends!

    3. Make a Gift in Honor of Earth Day
    We are looking forward to celebrating the 50th anniversary of Earth Day with you. This year's theme is 'climatic action' which feels so important:

    "The enormous challenge — but also the vast opportunities — of action on climate change have distinguished the issue as the most pressing topic for the 50th anniversary."

    The Eastern Himalayan forests where red pandas live are the lungs of South Asia. As a flagship and umbrella species, red panda conservation helps to protect this biodiverse ecoregion and combat global climate change.

    Receive this free "They Need Each Other" shirt when you donate or symbolically adopt a red panda.

    And now you donate simply by texting "REDPANDA" to 844-844-6844! Saving red pandas has never been easier.

    Earth Day "They Need Each Other" shirt

    4. Become a Panda Guardian!
    Join our Panda Guardian team of passionate and dedicated donors!

    Panda Guardians directly support sustainable livelihoods in the Himalayan communities who have committed to red panda conservation in Nepal.

    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!

    Join us on the frontlines of conservation with a monthly gift today!

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    5. Volunteer!

    Lastly, join RPN's international team of incredible volunteers. All positions are remote.

    We only have one volunteership posted but if you're passionate about saving red pandas please send your interest and experience to volunteer@redpandanetwork.org!

     

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