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.
RPN raises awareness on the frontlines of red panda conservation with the Holtzmann Wildlife Foundation.
On a global scale, red panda awareness is steadily growing. Videos on social media of adorable zoo-born cubs are going viral and people are doing their part to share conservation messages of this species.
But what about the people who live among the red pandas? What about people who depend on the same forest resources that red pandas depend on for their survival? People whose livelihood choices directly impact Himalayan wildlife and help determine the future of many threatened species. People who live more remotely and may not have the same access to the internet and social media. How do we reach the people who live on the frontlines of red panda conservation?
This is an important question. Red Panda Network (RPN) prioritizes grassroots efforts in range countries—and thanks to support from the Holtzmann Wildlife Foundation—we have completed a red panda awareness campaign that is pivotal to our overall outreach goals.
An effort of this magnitude is needed: The global red panda population has declined by 50 percent over the past 20 years. The wild population is estimated to be less than 10,000 and as few as 2,500. The primary threats are habitat loss and fragmentation—caused by unsustainable livestock grazing and harvest of forest resources, which is compounded by poaching and illegal wildlife trade.
What are the drivers of these threats? Poverty and low environmental awareness among red panda range communities.
RPN is addressing poverty with livelihood improvement and alternative income initiatives, which includes ecotourism, organic farming, micro-enterprises, an anti-poaching network and Forest Guardian programs.
Forest Guardians are local people who are hired to monitor and protect red panda habitat. They also help to educate their fellow community members about red pandas and their importance to the forest ecosystem.
In order to elevate local outreach, RPN worked with Vision 360 on a three-week campaign in the Panchthar-Ilam-Taplejung (PIT) corridor of Eastern Nepal during May and June of this year.
The campaign launched on Earth Day and featured a Nepali translation of ‘The Forgotten Panda,' a 15-minute documentary directed by Axel Gebauer. In Nepali, the title translates to, "Samrakchhyan ko Parkhaima Red Panda." This short, yet powerful film was showcased throughout the PIT corridor to help spark awareness for red panda conservation. Outreach at each event included a colorful red panda branded vehicle, red panda information sheets for attendees, audience engagement activities, and the distribution of children’s red panda storybooks in local schools.
Seven-hundred-and-fifty copies of the Nepali version of ‘The Forgotten Panda’ was distributed (on flash drives) and in just three weeks, 5,450 people living in red panda range were reached with outreach activities.
The campaign was financially supported by Holtzmann Wildlife Foundation in Chicago, IL, USA.
“The campaign has yielded very positive results for outreach among range communities. We are very thankful to the Holtzman Wildlife Foundation for this opportunity,” says RPN’s Country Director, Ang Phuri Sherpa.
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!
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.
Just over a decade ago, Menuka Bhattarai was walking through the forest in Eastern Nepal, when a colorful cat-like animal crossed her path and vanished inside the dense forest of bamboo, rhododendron and fig.
“I grew up hearing stories about this fluffy cat-like/fox-like animal which locals believed was responsible for causing damage to crops and livestock. But, I hadn’t seen it myself until that day. I was delighted.” she said.
Bhattarai, a thirty-year-old local from Phawakhola village in Taplejung, a remote hilly district in Eastern Nepal and one of the major habitats of endangered red pandas, shares that the locals—including her—had no idea what a red panda is or that it needed to be protected.
According to Bhattarai locals threw stones to scare away red pandas whenever they entered the village or were spotted in the forest. “We were unaware of the importance of this creature,”.
But things began to change over the years, thanks to the efforts of conservation stakeholders such as Red Panda Network (RPN) in creating awareness of red pandas and reducing threats caused by human disturbances.
Himali Conservation Forum (HCF), a non-governmental organization based in Taplejung has led the charge in raising red panda awareness. Supported by RPN, HCF engages with Community Forest User Groups (CFUGs) in the district to educate locals on the ‘little known’ and ‘misunderstood’ red panda.
HCF works with CFUGs in recommending some of its active members to RPN to be hired and trained as Forest Guardians (FGs)—and Menuka is one of them. RPN has hired 86 locals, including five females, as FGs who are paid to monitor and protect red panda habitat, as well as educate communities on red panda conservation.
“I consider myself an animal lover. When I saw a red panda for the first time, I fell in love with this cute animal. Luckily, I got an opportunity to work as a Forest Guardian for red panda conservation,” Bhattarai says.
Bhattarai joined RPN’s Forest Guardian team about six 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. “You should be doing household work and helping your family and not walking in the forests for red pandas,” Bhattarai said, adding, “But, my family members were supportive and let me do my work without any question,”.
Over the years, the perception among local people towards red panda has changed. Awareness campaigns have been organized, information boards installed, and forest users and school children have engaged in various outreach and education activities. In addition, RPN’s ecotourism initiatives have improved the economic status of community members, helping to mobilize them toward red panda conservation efforts.
As an FG, Bhattarai has been monitoring local red panda habitat and raising awareness in the community and schools about the importance of preserving this endangered species.
Pema Sherpa, RPN’s Conservation Coordinator in Eastern Nepal, emphasized poor representation of women in the conservation sector.
“The family environment can be discouraging” she said. According to Sherpa, families are reluctant to allow their female members to work as a FGs as they think going inside the remote forests and walking for hours—sometimes staying overnight—is not something a woman should be doing.
Bhattarai stresses the need for more women FGs to protect the forests. According to her, women are the primary stakeholders of the forests as they spend most of their time in the forest collecting firewood, fuel and fodder for their family.
“I want more women to be part of RPN’s Forest Guardian initiative. They need to be trained and empowered to take necessary steps towards protecting forests,” she said.
Gunjan Menon's The Firefox Guardian is a conservation love story:
Red pandas are a species in peril. But there is a very special community in Eastern Nepal that has come together to protect them. A native of these forests, ‘Menuka Bhattarai,’ is one of only a few women working as a ‘Forest Guardian’ with the Red Panda Network. This is the story of Menuka—an unconventional wildlife warrior—who against all odds is following her heart to save the last of the red pandas.
The Firefox Guardian is an award-winning film, and recently won Best Student Film at the Woodpecker International Film Festival. Menuka's voice has reached seven countries across the globe and has been creating awareness about red pandas.
Red Panda Network (RPN) is providing key support for Nepal’s first red panda conservation action plan.
The Ministry of Forests and Environment (MoFE) of the Government of Nepal has launched a five-year (2019-2023) “Red Panda Conservation Action Plan for Nepal” to boost efforts to conserve red pandas in the wild. This is Nepal’s first of such guidelines and will provide a thorough framework for engaging local communities and strengthening coordination among conservation actors at national and international levels.
The guidelines were architected by a group of experts representing the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC), Department of Forests and Soil Conservation (DoFSC), National Trust for Nature Conservation, WWF Nepal and Zoological Society of London. Red Panda Network (RPN) will provide technical and financial support. DNPWC and DFSC will take an overall lead in implementing the action plan.
“The plan will help to mainstream conservation activities and guide grassroots efforts to ensure the conservation of red pandas in the wild,” said Ang Phuri Sherpa, RPN’s Country Director.
“With this action plan, we aim to protect and manage red panda populations in Nepal by applying a holistic approach to conservation. Involvement of local communities has been prioritized in this action plan which I believe will be critical in achieving the plan’s targeted objectives for the next five years,” said Man Bahadur Khadka, director general of the DNPWC under the MoFE.
The plan outlines five major objectives targeted to improve survival rates among wild red pandas. Objectives include increasing understanding of conservation status, ecology and habitat dynamics; curbing poaching and illicit trade; protection and sustainable manage of habitat; enhancing and extending community-based red panda conservation initiatives; strengthening cooperation and coordination of red panda conservation programs at national and international levels.
“My hope is this action plan will synergize the combined efforts of the central government, provincial and local governments, conservation partners and local communities to achieve the common goal of protecting red pandas,” said Ram Prasad Lamsal, director general of DoFSC under the MoFE.
The presence of the elusive and endangered red panda, locally (in Nepal) known as ‘Habre’, is documented along the temperate bamboo forests in 24 districts and seven protected areas, totaling around 24,000 square kilometers. Besides Nepal, red pandas are also found in Bhutan, China, India and Myanmar with total range-wide red panda populations estimated to be less than 10,000 in the wild.
Wild red panda populations face a host of threats to their survival including continuous degradation and fragmentation of habitats, as well as poaching and illegal trade. Rapid human population growth and development and conversion of forests to settlements and agriculture are causing deforestation in their Eastern Himalayan range. Dog attacks in rural Nepal and transfer of diseases from livestock and dogs to these species—as well as climate change—are emerging threats to this endangered species.
This is all compounded further by the reality that 70 percent of red panda habitat in Nepal lies outside protected areas. Most of these habitats are managed as Community Forests where local communities are key stakeholders.
RPN is addressing these threats through collaborations with Community Forest User Groups and stakeholders that include ecotourism, anti-poaching patrol units, citizen scientist and Forest Guardian program, and community and school outreach programs.
Ang Phuri Sherpa is delighted with RPN’s leadership. “The Red Panda Conservation Action Plan is a first at the national level, and a big achievement for Red Panda Network. We are proud to provide key support for this important framework.”
Red Panda Network