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.”
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sonam Tashi Lama, Program Coordinator, Mobile: +977 9841843968, Email: email@example.com
Print and broadcast media contact:
Terrance Fleming (877) 854-2391 Ext. 101, firstname.lastname@example.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.
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.
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—
"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.
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.
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.
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.”
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 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.”
Writing and Communications Volunteer
Red Panda Network
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.’
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.
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:
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.
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.
Red Panda Network
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.
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.
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.
Writing and Communications Volunteer
Red Panda Network
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!
2. Educate and Advocate
Sharing the message that red pandas not only exist but are unique, important and endangered — and 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!
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.
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!
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.