Out of the Red Panda Network (RPN)'s 72 Forest Guardians in Nepal, Menuka Bhhatari is one of four women. Despite the fact that women tend to be the predominant forest users in Nepal, getting involved in conservation efforts isn't always easy for them.
Bhhatari has been threatened by poachers who try and convince her that there’s no use protecting red pandas and she’s been challenged by the village elderly who think that, as a woman, she should resign herself to doing household work. “The work for boys and girls is differentiated by God and Nature,” they tell her.
Yet, according to Bhhatari, women should not be limited to household chores and are just as much a part of red panda conservation in Nepal as their male counterparts. Even though they aren’t yet well represented within the organization’s Forest Guardian program, women remain a focal point of RPN’s conservation efforts, and change is happening gradually.
“In Nepal, especially in the rural areas, women have always imposed a great influence on their surroundings,” said Damber Bista, Red Panda Network’s conservation manager. According to him, more than 90 percent of Nepali women in rural areas are involved with activities that affect the environment in some way, including cooking, firewood and fodder collection, and agricultural practices.
Bista admitted that it is a challenge for RPN to recruit women forest guardians. When the non-profit looks for new Forest Guardians, it asks local forest users and villages for their recommendations.
“They mostly recommend males,” said Bista, “even though we’ve been requesting them to recommend females. They say that it’s risky for females to go into the forest for the whole day. Even if some women dare to do this, some say it becomes hard to take care of their family at home.”
Just because it’s proven difficult to recruit females doesn’t mean that RPN is giving up, and has recently added three women to the Forest Guardian team. “Women remain one of the important target groups of our conservation program,” said Bista. “We believe that a well-educated mother can not only contribute to conservation, but also educate her children with good habits, which ultimately help to foster sustainable living.”
Red Panda Network has a number of programs and initiatives specifically targeted to women, including nature guide training, homestay management training, and nettle fiber extraction training. Additionally, two of the 32 RPN’s Community Forest User Groups are comprised entirely of women members.
According to Pema Sherpa, one of Red Panda Network’s newest members, the door is slowly opening to getting more women involved in conservation efforts. As RPN’s Conservation Coordinator, Sherpa helps to assist in implementing and coordinating various activities with the organization’s field partners in eastern Nepal.
“Women are not allowed to put forth their views when discussing conservation policy, and they lack [equal] access to forest conservation efforts, but the scenario is changing,” said Sherpa. “In the past, women were confined only to household chores and they were hindered to get involved in conservation efforts.”
Today, says Sherpa, women and girls want to get involved with Red Panda Network’s conservation efforts, even if some families won’t allow women to work as Forest Guardians. “Nowadays,” she said, “society respects working women.” Sherpa specifically commented that many women are interested in becoming involved with ecotourism efforts as a way to conserve their environment.
“We believe that women are the first teachers of every child,” said Sherpa, “and that children are the building stones of every nation. Therefore, the participation of women in red panda conservation is crucial.”
Fortunately for our friend Bhhatari, her family members are supportive of her being a Forest Guardian, and have been for the past three and a half years. “As a forest guardian, I have the chance to contribute my efforts to red panda conservation.”
When asked if she’d encourage a future daughter or a young girl in her village to become a Forest Guardian with the Red Panda Network, Bhhatari gave an emphatic “yes.”
“Even now,” she said, “I try to convince my friends to join because if we don’t take action now, red pandas will be extinct forever.”
Writing and Communications Volunteer
Red Panda NetworkPlease check out Shane Downing’s work at www.scdowning.com
Not only do they provide an opportunity to connect with red pandas — inspiring people to take action — but zoos also directly support conservation.At first glance, zoos might seem to exist purely for human entertainment, but this couldn't be farther from the truth. Zoos play a key role in aiding and encouraging conservation work, and are able to help conservation projects in ways that on-the-ground operations can't. While Red Panda Network's (RPN) primary focus is on conservation efforts in native red panda habitat in Nepal, zoos in other parts of the world are some of our most important allies in the fight to save this wonderful animal.
On the most basic level, zoos help keep a population of animals safe. Any certified zoo will be able to keep the animals in its care safe, healthy, and protected from whatever threats menace the animal in the wild. Deforestation and poaching now sadly mean that home is not safe for these animals, and keeping a population in a managed habitat monitored and protected by people has become necessary for some of them. These captive populations allow researchers and keepers to observe the animals' behavior. The more we know about how these animals act, the better we can develop effective conservation strategies.The obvious next step is that zoos can enact responsible captive breeding programs. (While the watchful eyes of scientists might dampen human ardor, the animals usually don't care.) Animals that are pregnant, caring for young, or young themselves can be especially vulnerable to predators, poachers, and other dangers in the wild. These breeding programs take the genetic diversity and age structure of the captive population into account, mating unrelated animals to each other and avoid the inbreeding depression that can threaten the health of animals, ensuring the long-term viability of the population. These programs therefore not only keep the overall numbers of a species up, and often growing, but also ensure that most of those individuals will be healthy and able to produce healthy offspring. The young animals produced through these programs can be released into the wild to reinforce those populations, but often form the next generation of zoo animals serving as ambassadors for threatened species.
Finally, zoos allow wider human populations to fall in love with animals. Amazingly, considering the number of Instagram accounts devoted to red pandas (every one of which I follow), not everyone has heard of the original panda, and many of these people would never know about them without a visit to the zoo. Even established panda enthusiasts rarely have the chance to trek into the Nepalese countryside or elsewhere in the red pandas' range, and so a zoo-kept red panda is the only chance most people will have to see one.
This isn't important just for entertainment reasons. Endangered species' survival often depends largely on public interest and, especially, money: it takes cash to enact programs to help and protect endangered animals. A personal encounter with an animal can do a lot to get people emotionally invested in that animal's survival. Pictures are great, videos are helpful, but actually seeing red pandas power waddle and watching them use their agile little paws to get an apple slice makes them real to viewers in a way that representations can't. When people's heartstrings are tugged, they're far more likely to get involved or to contribute, and more advocates and resources can only help the survival chances of red pandas and other threatened creatures.
Part of the mission shared by good zoos worldwide is to conserve species like the red panda. Therefore, the World Association of Zoos (WAZA) has established a small number of Global Species Management Plans (GSMP) to achieve this. The Red Panda GSMP facilitates the cooperation of red panda zoos belonging to the regional zoo associations of Australasia (ZAA), Europe (EAZA), India (CZA), Japan (JAZA), North America (AZA) and South Africa (PAZAA).
In addition to coordinating a worldwide breeding program for red pandas, the GSMP also actively supports in-situ (on-site, in its original place) conservation programs by partnering with nonprofit organizations like Red Panda Network (RPN). Zoos and zookeepers around the world actively participate in International Red Panda Day to help educate and fundraise for RPN. This is only one of many in-situ conservation programs supported by the WAZA, its member zoos, and the people who work and volunteer at these zoos.
Zoos are an important component of conservation efforts for red pandas and many, many other species we desperately need to keep around so as to maintain the beauty and natural diversity of our world. International Red Panda Day is a day of raising global awareness of red pandas and supporting the conservation of this endangered species. It typically takes place the third Saturday in September (September 15th this year) but zoos all over the world celebrate it whenever they are able to. Please contact your local zoo to find out if they are participating!
Writing and Communications Volunteer
Red Panda Network
In the ongoing battle to save red pandas and their habitat, Red Panda Network (RPN) has added yet another weapon: an anti-poaching alliance.
According to a 2014 RPN study, poaching and illegal trade are growing threats to red pandas. Their geographic location makes them vulnerable as it borders several known animal-trafficking routes.
The anti-poaching network, which comprises RPN's 72 Forest Guardians (FGs), has the challenging task of curbing red panda poaching and trafficking in eastern Nepal. Recently, the FGs were trained in anti-poaching investigation methods, which include recording signs of poaching, dismantling traps, identifying wildlife body parts and reporting findings to local law enforcement agencies.
Although habitat destruction is the primary threat to red pandas, recent data suggest poaching is on the rise, according to Damber Bista, Conservation Manager for RPN, Asia Division. The data is based on the number of hides confiscated by the field unit of the Department of Forests as well as the police in Nepal, he wrote in an email. The number of hides confiscated in the past five years has been as low as two in 2011 to as high as 17 in 2013.
These may not seem like large numbers, but considering red pandas have been downgraded from "vulnerable" to "endangered" status on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species, every death is significant.Demand for red panda skins comes primarily from parts of China, such as Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, where some local people believe wearing a hat made of red panda fur and tail during the wedding ceremony will ensure a happy marriage, Bista wrote. In addition, some restaurants in China reportedly serve red panda meat.
"But interestingly, we have no evidence of exporting red panda hides to China and any other country as most of those cases were from Kathmandu," Bista wrote. In Nepal, only grass-roots level people have been convicted so far, and none of those convicted had any idea where the demand for the hides came from, according to Bista. Locally, red panda hides can bring anywhere from NPR25,000 to NPR100,000 (about 230 USD to 920 USD).
Poachers who are caught face a jail term of one to 10 years or a fine ranging from NPR10,000 to NPR75,000 (92 USD to 690 USD) or both. But the level of enforcement is moderate, wrote Bista. "Strictly following the rules and regulations will help improve this, and awareness-building of local politicians and other influential persons of the community will be helpful in establishing thorough enforcement."
Conservationists and other stakeholders can further strengthen this enforcement by regularly following up on poaching cases, he added.
Anti-poaching efforts and education face other challenges. Although the Sherpa, who practice Buddhism, do not believe in killing any animals, some of the indigenous tribes living within red panda territory have adopted a hunting culture. "This is one of the issues that makes it hard to convince them," Bista wrote.
Thanks to their training, the FGs now have a more systematic and scientific anti-poaching protocol - something they lacked in the past, according to Bista. "We still have to work a lot, especially in empowering and mobilizing the members of this network."
Plans are for the anti-poaching network to grow to 100 individuals, serving the entire Panchthar-Ilam-Taplejung Corridor as well as other areas of Nepal.Bista urges red panda advocates to support RPN in extending its outreach. "The poaching induced threat is very high in central and western Nepal, where there is very little effort put forth for the conservation of red pandas and other associated wildlife in comparison to eastern Nepal."
Writing and Communications Volunteer
Red Panda Network
Red Panda Network is excited to announce the completion of a national red panda survey in Nepal.
The existing status of red pandas, Ailurus fulgens, is not well-known at this time. Studies in the past did not provide essential baseline data on the red pandas' distribution, the number of red pandas in each area, habitat quality, as well as deforestation and climate change in their region. In addition, previous studies were confined to the district and VDC (Village Development Committees) levels. This study is unique because it will evaluate the status of red pandas throughout their entire range in Nepal.
Our national red panda survey was very extensive with a number of very important goals. The first goal was to identify past trends and the present status and distribution of red pandas in Nepal. In 1997, scientist PB Yonzon estimated the total population of red pandas in Nepal to be around 314 individuals, whereas scientist Sharada Jnawali's study in 2012 indicated the population to be somewhere between 237 and 1061 individuals. These studies were inconclusive because they were primarily based on habitat suitability analysis. Red Panda Network's study will provide reliable results through the use of reports, land use maps of the survey areas, as well as detailed information on red pandas using state of the art GPS technology, and GIS (Geographic Information Systems) software.The second goal of this study was to identify existing and potential red panda habitat as well as corridors and population hotspots in Nepal. Land use maps were used to study the types of forest within red panda habitat which include: broad-leaf deciduous forest, birch and alpine scrub, fir forest, broad-leaf conifer forest, rhododendron forest, oak forest, and coniferous forest with bamboo. The land use maps were also used to study the elevation of the habitat survey area (2000-4000m). Special attention was given to both direct and indirect signs such as foot prints, droppings, scratch marks and foraging marks.The third goal was to identify both climatic and non-climatic threats to red panda conservation. This was accomplished through focus group discussions, key informant discussions, as well as meetings with local experts, communities and stakeholders. These approaches have helped assess the efficiency of red panda conservation programs in Nepal.The fourth goal of the red panda survey was to work with with non-governmental organizations and government agencies in reviewing current red panda conservation initiatives in Nepal. These initiatives and agencies were assessed for their efficiency and consistency.The fifth goal was to recommend best management practices and measures for long-term red panda conservation at the program and policy level in Nepal. The best management practices were determined after completing the following activities: 1) Inception Workshop; 2) Consulation Meeting with Stakeholders; 3) Training of Field Biologists; 4) Field Survey and Sample Collection; 5) DNA Extraction and Assay Optimization; 6) Laboratory Processing; 7) Analysis and Report Preparation; 8) Sharing Workshop.
The survey was conducted in June and July, 2016 and many of our findings are in the analysis phase. Forty field biologists participated in this project who traversed along 1,147km of transects, collected 625 red panda fecal samples and identified and catalogued 72 species of bamboo. During the survey we discovered, for the first time, the presence of red pandas in Lamjung, Bhojpur and Dolpa districts!
Writing and Communications Volunteer
Red Panda Network
Once again, red pandas find themselves one step closer to extinction.
For the second time in nearly two decades, their status on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species has regressed from "vulnerable" to "endangered."
"This means the species is moving closer to a perilous state, and if it goes this way it could become extinct in the wild," wrote biologist Pritpal Soorae, via email. Soorae is program officer for the IUCN/Species Survival Commission's Re-introduction Specialist Group. "In most cases animals and plants go extinct due to human-induced reasons such as habitat destruction, illegal trade, etc."
The purpose of The IUCN Red List is to identify and highlight the animals and plants most at risk of extinction. An animal ends up on the list after it has been assessed and its status determined, Soorae wrote.
IUCN has been tracking the conservation status of various species and subspecies worldwide for 50 years. The elusive red panda, whose range includes China, Myanmar, India, Nepal and Bhutan, was last assessed in April 2015, according to IUCN's website.
Red panda expert Angela Glatston was one of the people who evaluated the red panda for the IUCN. "So when the red panda's status came up for review, I looked through all the literature - especially that produced since the last time that the red panda status was reviewed," she wrote via an email interview. "I contacted people currently working on pandas in the field for information. There is a structured form to complete which asks for information on distribution, numbers, threats, etc. Then I looked at the criteria for status. The information on red panda suggested endangered so that was my recommendation. This report and recommendation are reviewed by the IUCN, and in this case they were accepted."
While Glatston estimates the global zoo population of red pandas to be 700, the exact number of them in the wild is unknown. Efforts to quantify the population have used differing techniques.
But she cited habitat loss and fragmentation due to human activity, poaching, climate change and people moving into red panda habitat with their herds and dogs as being factors negatively impacting the red panda population and, therefore, justifying the "endangered" designation.
"The significance of this change in status will hopefully make it easier for people to get money for red panda research and conservation," Glatston wrote. "Also it hopefully will make people more aware of the species and its problems."
The fact that the red panda population is under threat should alarm people, said Tara Easter, a staff scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity, in a phone interview. The center is a nonprofit organization based in Tucson, Ariz., that works to protect endangered species through petitions and other grassroots efforts as well as legal action."One of the sayings that tends to shock people is we're in the beginnings of a sixth mass extinction," Easter said. "We're losing species faster than we can name them."
In a research article published in Science Advances in June of last year, Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich and others presented their assessment that the world's humans have begun to kill off species of other living things at a rate far greater than anything seen in the last 65 million years.
"If the currently elevated extinction pace is allowed to continue, humans will soon (in as little as three human lifetimes) be deprived of many biodiversity benefits," the scientists wrote. "On human time scales, this loss would be effectively permanent because in the aftermath of past mass extinctions, the living world took hundreds of thousands to millions of years to rediversify."
One of the benefits of diversity is wellness. How diverse an ecosystem is directly correlates with how healthy it is, Easter said. The more diverse the ecosystem, the greater the buffer it has to prevent disease outbreaks, she said.
In scientific terms, this is known as the "dilution effect hypothesis." After analyzing data from more than 200 assessments of the relationship between disease and biodiversity, scientists in the July 2015 issue of the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) concluded that biodiversity decreases the spread of parasites as well as animals' consumption of plants.
While the outlook for red pandas may be bleak, the situation isn't hopeless, according to experts.
"I think a lot of it comes down to our moral responsibilities," Easter said. Donating time and/or money to conservation organizations and getting involved in local and national governments in order to affect environmental policy changes are among the actions the public can take to help endangered species, she said.
The red panda is particularly precious because it is unique, Glatston said via email. Losing it would be like losing an entire biological family, such as the cat family, she wrote. "All the cats - from the small wild cats right up to the lions and tigers."
"Extinction is a natural process, but in cases like that of the red pandas, it is a process caused by human activity," Glatston wrote. "Without habitat changes caused by us, red panda numbers would be much higher. This is why we feel we should do something about it."
Writing and Communications Volunteer
Red Panda Network
It's National Zookeeper Week and we are honoring zookeepers everywhere! These hardworking professionals have made it their life's work to care for the needs of animals and their hard work results in the preservation of hundreds of species around the world. If you think about it, zookeepers are like midwives. But they assist with so much more than birthing. Here's a quick list of activities and responsibilities zookeepers manage on a daily basis. How many of these were you aware of?
1. Zookeepers engage the public and build awareness about various species, inspiring others to take action to save wildlife and preserve habitats.
2. Zookeepers help raise funds for endangered species through professional and personal fundraising programs.
3. Zookeepers research and test various enrichment techniques for the animals in their care. Enrichment ensures the mental and emotional health of the animals!
5. They consistently study animal scat to determine dietary needs and to monitor overall animal health.
6. Zookeepers network as a professional community to develop and share best practices and solutions for various species.
7. Night and day they clean and clean and clean (and clean some more) animal exhibit enclosures.
8. Zookeepers painstakingly prepare a variety of foods for a range of species, keeping with special diets, feeding schedules and procedures.
9. They help animals in their keep prepare for birthing. This can include building nesting boxes and other contraptions that mimic natural habitat.
10. Keepers train animals to participate in the administration of medications, such that the animal's stress level is minimized.
Red Panda Network acknowledges and honors the role zookeepers play in helping Mother Nature achieve her best work. As midwives, they are helping Mother Nature provide improved lives for so many species worldwide. When it comes to survival of the species, they are invaluable.
Happy National Zookeepers Week!
Red pandas and giant pandas. Must be pretty similar, right? I mean they're both "pandas," they both eat bamboo, they're both cute and furry; they even share habitat! But there are also many differences between these two adorable creatures. Here are ten facts that'll make you a TRUE panda expert!
1. The red panda is not related to the giant panda. The giant panda belongs to the Ursidae family (Bears) and the red panda belongs to its own taxonomically unique Family: Ailuridae. The giant panda and the red panda do however share some of the same characteristics and a common ancestor. This is called “convergent evolution.”
2. The red panda is the only panda. The giant panda was discovered later and only called a panda because of the anatomical features both species share. The name "panda" is believed to be derived from the Nepalese words: "nigalya ponya" meaning "bamboo eater."
3. The red panda is the "original panda!" Frederic Cuvier, a curator at the National Museum of Natural History was not the first to describe the red panda, but he was the first to publish a description of the species, in 1848. He thought it the most beautiful mammal he had ever seen and named it Ailurus fulgens for "red shining cat."
4. Red panda habitat and giant panda habitat overlap in Sichuan, China. Otherwise, nearly 50 percent of the red panda's habitat is in the Eastern Himalayas, including Nepal, Tibet, India, Bhutan, and Myanmar. The giant panda inhabits the six major mountain ranges in Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces of China.
5. The red panda and the giant panda both eat bamboo, and lots of it. The average giant panda eats as much as 20 to 45 lbs (9-20 kg) of bamboo shoots a day. The red panda eats 2 to 4 pounds of bamboo shoots and leaves each day — roughly 20 to 30 percent of their body weight. Red pandas also eat fruits, insects, bird eggs, etc.
6. Both the red panda and the giant panda have an enlarged wrist bone, engineered to hold bamboo stems while they eat! This is also described as a "false thumb."
7. The red panda is an endangered species whereas the giant panda is now classified as vulnerable. Both of these adorable animals are struggling to survive while facing enormous pressure imposed by human beings including habitat loss and degradation. Both species now rely on conservation interventions to ensure their survival.
8. The red panda and the giant panda are both kept in zoos worldwide. The red panda breeds very successfully in zoo conditions. The World Association of Zoos and Aquaria (WAZA) coordinates the breeding programme for red pandas maintained in zoos around the world. Zoos are performing invaluable roles with these types of programs, to ensure the long-term survival of many species that urgently need to be conserved and protected in the wild.
It is a little known fact that the red panda can also be found at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, in China.
9. Both the giant panda and the red panda are hunted and poached for their fur. While poaching of the giant panda has declined considerably due to strict laws and greater public awareness of the panda’s protected status, the red panda is still poached for its pelt and for the black market pet trade.
Red panda pictures are easy to find on social media channels these days but where can you see real live red pandas in the wild? Red Panda Network (RPN) offers guided ecotrips in Eastern Nepal that make it possible to see red pandas in their natural habitat! Here are the top 10 reasons why you might want to add this to your bucket list:
1. See the red panda, a rare and elusive species, in its natural habitat! The number one reason most people go on an RPN ecotrip is to see red pandas in the wild. Thanks to our incredible Forest Guardians and ecotrip field guides—and rising red panda numbers in our conservation project areas—RPN has had a 100% success rate of red panda sightings during ecotrips for years now.
2. See dozens of bird species. Sightings of more than 30 bird species have been reported on RPN ecotrips, including: Fire-tailed Myzornis, the White-collared Blackbird, the Orange-flanked Bush- robin and the uncommon White-capped Water Redstart. Additional sightings of the Rufous-vented Niltava, Himalayan Griffon Vulture, a Steppe Eagle, an Oriental Honey Buzzard, the Asian Barred Owlet and a White-capped Water Redstart have been reported from past Red Panda Network ecotrip participants.
3. Amazing Adventure Red pandas are elusive and live in remote forested areas, so get ready for an adventure! The journey includes a long, bumpy jeep ride, modest accommodations and challenging hikes through thick vegetation and up or down steep ravines. Sometimes unpredictable weather can impact our adventure, as well as other unforeseen delays. But don’t worry! We’ve seen it all and done it all many times before! Get ready to work up a healthy appetite exploring the gorgeous scenery.
4. Spectacular Scenery in addition to searching for red pandas and other mammals and bird species, a portion of the trip is devoted to taking in spectacular views of Nepal’s forested ridges extending tens of miles into the distance, fading in the distant mist, rhododendron forests and breathtaking views of Kanchenjunga and Everest!
5. Unforgettable People From your tour guide to the Forest Guardians in charge of tracking the red panda in the wild, our RPN team takes pride in providing wonderful service. During your journey in Nepal, you will be connecting with amazing communities that are committed to red panda conservation!
6. Simple, Slow Food Leave your food habits behind and embrace the simplicity of the Nepali diet, which includes a lot of Dal, Bhat and Tarkari – (Lentils, Rice and Curried vegetables). You may be also be served combined dishes of dal-bhat tarkari. Breakfast might be something like sukkah roti, aloo-chana, noodles, omelet, jam and peanut butter. Tea and coffee are served any time. Lunch and dinner mainly consists of rice, Mo:Mo, Paratha and chapatti, which are served with daal (lentil soup) and vegetables.
7. Tea and Tongba! RPN ecotrips begin and end in Ilam, home to one of the oldest tea plantations in Nepal. Test the world-renowned tea and make use of this stop to purchase a few gifts. Once you reach the hills of eastern Nepal, you may also be offered Tongba (a popular liquor in the hills, made by pouring hot water into a pot of fermented millet and drunk with a bamboo straw). Cheers!
8. RPN ecotrips are very economical, once you get there! Our ecotrip packages include lodging, food, local travel, and experienced tour and field guides. Groups of 2-4 receive a %10 discount and groups of 5-8 get %20 off the total cost!
9. Conservation Travel Your payment will support RPN’s community-based ecotourism initiative which contributes directly to sustainable livelihoods. All food, lodgings and hospitality are provided locally, creating sustainable employment for the native communities that are alternatives to forest exploitation.
10. Channel the magnificence of the Himalayan region, home to Mount Everest and the highest mountains in the world!
Do you have questions about our ecotrips? Send us an email at email@example.com.