• Rhinos and Red Pandas

    In December last year, 26 homestay owners in Nepal discussed best practices in ecotourism. Their dialogue highlighted the importance of all actors in conservation and community.

    What do rhinos and red pandas have in common? Nothing much, apart from the fact that they are both mammals and vertebrates.

    Rhinos, or Rhinoceros, is one of five remaining species in the family Rhinocerotidae. On the other hand, red pandas, which have historically been grouped with bears and raccoons, are now the only representative of the family Ailuridae.

    Are they both herbivores? Well, technically no. Red pandas are mostly herbivorous and their diet is almost entirely made up of (mostly) bamboo, fruits and flowers. However, they have also been known to eat insects, bird eggs and even birds. And it gets more complicated: red pandas are in the Order Carnivora but unlike most carnivorans they hardly ever eat meat.

    Over half of the world’s red pandas are found in the Eastern Himalayas, a region stretching from Nepal all the way to the tips of western China; Rhinos mostly live in subtropical grasslands and savannahs.

    They may not have much in common, but their threat of extinction puts them in the spotlight for urgent conservation of their populations and habitats.

    Saving Species, Protecting Communities

    The approach to conservation of a species depends on their status in the wild as well as the factors that are threatening their existence. Ecotourism and education may not reap immediate results but it is a start: awareness of a species vulnerability to extinction and necessary protection can slow down horn and hide harvest. As the saying goes, when the demand stops, the killing can too.

    In December 2017, 26 homestay owners in Nepal came together to learn best practices in ecotourism management. They visited Amaltari Madhyabarti Home Stay and Pipraha Home Stay, which are part of WWF's rhino ecotourism program.

    Apart from sharing experiences in operations, financial management and marketing, homestay owners also learned how to maximize available resources and services for their business’ long-term survival.

    More importantly, the dialogue was meant to help them apply this knowledge to their respective homestays and put conservation and community at the forefront of their business.

    Homestay exposure visit.
    Homestay exposure visit.

    East of the Chitwan National Park lies Almaltari, a village that has experienced the devastation of overgrazing and illegal poaching. It is also no stranger to deforestation.

    The landscape changed after the establishment of a homestay, which Mr Siman Mahato, owner of Amaltari Madhyabarti Homestay, says was an undertaking bursting with challenges galore. He elaborated on major achievements such as constructing six ponds for Bote community fish farming.

    Mahato concluded his share with other activities conducted in collaboration with WWF Nepal. For example, 24 local women were able to form an independent network of ‘Naya bihani mahila samuha’ and started producing turmeric. WWF Nepal assisted by providing them with turmeric processing machines.

    Participants of the Homestay Exposure Visit also went on a jeep safari where rhinos, deer, vultures, peacock and a myriad of bird species were spotted in their natural habitat. It is a reminder of how these animals—some on the verge of extinction—are better enjoyed in their own home rather than through poaching and illegal trade.

    Participants on a jeep safari.
    Participants on a jeep safari.
    Rhinos during jeep safari.
    Rhinos during jeep safari.

    So, what do rhinos and red pandas have in common?

    Ecotourism can be an effective solution to their preservation. For example, sign up for one of these homestays during an ecotrek, and part of your contribution goes towards conserving the area’s biodiversity and livelihood programs. Part of the revenue also funds activities that promote local culture and ensures indigenous traditions and handicrafts are preserved.

    Because financial and labor resources are limited in this part of the world, it was important that participants on the Homestay Exposure Visit learn how to be resourceful. After all, their efforts at conservation secure not just their own livelihoods, but their next generation’s as well.

    Participants of homestay training.
    Participants of homestay training.

    If nature trails and cosy homestays are your kind of thing, do check out our upcoming 2018 & 2019 ecotrips here.

    You will enjoy hikes through some of the Eastern Himalayas’ most pristine forests, and enjoy the hospitality of village homestays. Your stay will keep wildlife wild and help rural communities earn an alternate source of income.

    Zhuomin Lee
    Writing and Communications Volunteer
    Red Panda Network

  • Free-Roaming Dogs: a Major Threat to Red Pandas

    On a daily basis, red pandas face an uphill battle for survival. They are threatened by habitat destruction and fragmentation, illegal poaching, haphazard development work, and untimely weather affecting the flowering of their primary food source, bamboo.

    Another threat has emerged: numerous free-roaming dogs within the red panda habitat, and they appear to be triggering high mortality rates of red pandas.  

    The presence of free-roaming dogs can cause wildlife to move away from an area, either temporarily or permanently. Wild animals (including red pandas) become less active during the day in order to avoid interaction with the strays. Free roaming dogs can kill wild animals and spread diseases such as rabies and distemper. They can also pollute water sources and transmit parasites to both animals and humans.

    Neutering is the primary solution to reduce the long-term dog population. But, where to implement such a program? Neutering requires veterinary professionals, resources, and a population of humans willing to participate.

    Participants of dog nuetering service.
    Participants of dog nuetering service.

    Tourists and pilgrims are also often targeted by free-roaming dogs, and the Ilam and Taplejung Districts, located near the Indian border, are major tourists destinations. A neutering agreement was made with the District Livestock Service Centre: Ilam and Taplejung for their medical services. News about the neutering and vaccination program was broadcasted on local radio and letters were delivered to respective Community Forest User Groups (CFUGs).

    Initially, the response was muted as locals were unsure their dogs would survive the operation. There was also misconceptions about whether the neutering process would make their dogs lethargic. Generally, villagers prefer vaccines and as well as birth control tablets over neutering.  

    A team of technicians performed operations on 200 dogs between the ages of 8 months to 9 years, benefitting 156 households of 8 CFUGs from Ilam and Taplejung (Choyatar CF, Nunthala CF, Kalikhop dadeli CF, Chipchipe CF, Laliguras mahila CF, Pathivara simbu CF, Mayampatal CF, Phurumbhu kharka CF). 53 dogs received rabies vaccinations.

    Two weeks after the operations a few people complained their dog’s healing process took longer than expected. No other problems were encountered, though several people reported some neutered dogs had become excessive barkers.

    Local community member and dog.
    Local community member and dog.
    Red panda cub in Eastern Nepal.
    Red panda cub in Eastern Nepal.

    Street dogs are a desired target for neutering, but unfortunately, they are very difficult to trap, and require technicians, and equipment. A dart method can be used to sedate the dogs prior to operation, but this is expensive and requires a high level of expertise. Challenges remain in keeping free-roaming dog populations from becoming a larger problem.

    RPN recommends additional scientific research to understand free-roaming dogs’ impact on red panda survival and conservation. We also strongly support working with local professional organizations who can ensure veterinary professionalism. RPN will continue to work with local communities to ensure red panda populations, and the communities that support them, remain healthy and strong.

    Pema Sherpa, Danielle Lippe, Mark Hougardy & Terrance Fleming
    Red Panda Network

  • Himalayan Red Panda Phototrip: Q & A with Trip Host Rafa Salvador

    Do you love red pandas? Have a passion for photography? Then have we got a trip for you…

    Introducing our new Himalayan Red Panda Phototrip. It’s like one of our ecotrips, but with an emphasis on photography. Whether you’re an experienced photographer or a novice looking to improve your skills, this trip offers a one-of-a-kind opportunity to get immersed in the distinctive landscape and biosphere of Eastern Nepal.

    The Himalayan Red Panda Phototrip is provided in cooperation with Photofox LPG, a nature photography company that facilitates eco-conscious “photo adventures” worldwide. The trip will be hosted by Rafa Salvador, who has experience as a photographer in several countries including Costa Rica, Nepal, Scotland and Thailand. Rafa has organized trips for reputable wildlife organizations such as National Geographic, and with National Geographic Explorers, such as Molly Ferrill. We sat down with Rafa to discuss his background, how the phototrip came to be and what trip participants can expect.

    RPN: Tell us a little about your background and how you became involved with photography.

    Rafa: My background is in law. Through my journalism work, I naturally became inclined toward photography. After working as a sports photographer during my undergraduate years, I changed my focus to wildlife conservation. I became connected with a National Geographic photographer who was documenting wildlife tourism in Thailand. This rekindled my passion for photography, which led to the creation of photo tours.

    Rafa Salvador

    Phototrip leader, Rafa Salvador. 

    RPN: What is main concept behind Photofox Adventures?

    Rafa: The company provides full-immersion phototrips with an emphasis on education and ethical practices. Unfortunately, a lot of photography companies disregard animal welfare in pursuit of the “perfect shot”; likewise, nature tourism can have a negative impact on the environment when there’s a lack of knowledge and respect for nature. Our mission is to give people a chance to pursue their passion for nature photography in a more environmentally responsible way, and to educate them about animal welfare. In keeping with this ethos, we often partner with wildlife conservation organizations, such as Rainforest Animals Rescue Group and, most recently, Red Panda Network.

    RPN: How did you connect with Red Panda Network?

    Rafa: My interest in nature conservation led me to RPN. During a fundraising campaign to assist victims of the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, I contacted RPN about the possibility of collaborating on a photo adventure. They were pleased with my experience organizing phototrips, wildlife photography skills and interest in protecting red pandas, and we decided to create the Himalyan Red Panda Phototrip.

    RPN: How does attending the Himalayan Red Panda Phototrip benefit Red Panda Network and its mission?

    Rafa: Your trip payment directly supports the community-based conservation initiatives of Red Panda Network, including the Forest Guardian program, which trains and employs local people as professional forest stewards. During the trip, you will have an opportunity to see firsthand how this is being carried out, as you visit villages and locations where the RPN is actively involved with red panda conservation and awareness.

    Forest Guardians

    Forest Guardians of Eastern Nepal. 

    RPN: Other than red pandas, what types of wildlife are trip participants likely to see?

    Rafa: The mountains and forests we’ll be traveling through are home to a wide diversity of wildlife, including clouded leopards, Himalayan black bears, yellow-throated martens, Bengal foxes, golden jackals and Assam macaques, Additionally, more than 120 species of birds inhabit this region, including the Wood Snipe, Satyr Tragopan, Common Teal, Fire-tailed Myzornis, Maroon-backed Accentor, Green-tailed Sunbird, Rufous-throated Wren Babbler, and the Rusty-fronted Barwing.

    Green-tailed Sunbird

    Green-tailed Sunbird. 

    RPN: What kinds of equipment should trip participants bring with them?

    Rafa: You’ll need to bring two kinds of equipment: hiking gear and photography equipment. For hiking, we recommend an 80-100Lt backpack and a 30Lt daypack with rain cover to carry binoculars, water bottle and extra clothing. Regarding photography equipment, the short answer is that this trip can be completed with only a camera, a telephoto zoom, a wide angle lens, a tripod, rain protection and a cable release. However, if you can afford it, we recommend additional gear, as listed here. It’s also important to bring electrical adapters for charging your camera equipment, including “Type D” Indian BS 546 and “Type C” European CEE 7/16.

    Please keep in mind that you should bring all your camera gear on board with you during your flight to Nepal. Never check your camera gear as hold luggage. Check the flight regulations of each airline company to make sure your camera gear bag is suitable for carry-on; I use a Lowepro 500 AW bag and have never had any trouble traveling with it, but I recommend double-checking regardless.

    RPN: Do trip participants need to have a certain level of photography experience?

    Rafa: No, not at all! Any person at any skill level is welcome, from amateur to professional. Even non-photographers can have a great time on this trip—we don’t want to exclude anyone that is interested in joining.

    RPN: Is there anything trip participants should be prepared for in terms of physical challenges or environmental conditions?

    Rafa: Yes, this trip requires a medium level of fitness, due to the fact that we’ll be hiking through a wide range of altitudes and terrain. Also, because we’ll be trekking to higher elevations than what many participants are used to, there is always a possibility you may experience altitude sickness. Our trip leaders do everything they can to avoid this, including gradual elevation to allow for acclimation, and making sure everyone is well-hydrated. In any case, this phototrip will be more slow-paced than a regular ecotrip, since we’ll be stopping frequently to take photos.

    Photo by Rafael Salvador during 2018 Phototrip to Nepal.

    RPN: What kinds of knowledge or insights should trip participants expect to take away from their phototrip experience?

    Rafa: All Photofox Adventure trips are educational in nature, not only in regard to photography but to the setting’s indigenous wildlife and people. On the Himalayan phototrip, you will learn about Nepali livelihoods and culture, as well the red panda, its habitat and the conservation effort on its behalf. In addition, you will develop your travel photography skills, as we demonstrate and practice techniques for capturing wildlife and shooting landscapes. Overall, the trip should be a fun, educational and rewarding experience for all participants.


    Photo by Rafael Salvador during 2018 Phototrip to Nepal.
    Photo by Rafael Salvador during 2018 Phototrip to Nepal.

    For more information about the Himalayan Red Panda Phototrip, visit our general trip info page.

    James Florence
    Writing and Communications Volunteer
    Red Panda Network

  • Improved Cookstoves for Red Panda Stewards

    In a tiny village near the Nepal-India border, a small innovation in cooking methods is making a big difference in the lives of red pandas and the people who share their home.

    With the help of Red Panda Network, families in Dobate, a settlement of 11 households in Ilam district, began using metal cookstoves in December 2016. The appliances have improved fuel efficiency and reduced firewood consumption.

    Dobate Village in Ilam, Eastern Nepal

    Dobate Village in Ilam, Eastern Nepal

    Deforestation and loss of habitat are negatively impacting the red panda population.  While the causes of deforestation vary by locale, firewood consumption, cattle grazing and illegal logging are the leading drivers of it in Dobate. For families there, the forest is a source of firewood as well as timber for building fences and cow sheds.

    Prior to last December, Dobate locals used traditional cookstoves composed of mud and stones, which required 33 kg of wood for fuel per day and produced large amounts of smoke.

    traditional stove

    Local woman preparing rice on traditional stove

    The impact of this type of cooking and heating is not only environmental. The smoke has serious health consequences for the people who continue to use traditional cookstoves in poorly ventilated homes, according to the World Health Organization.

    WHO reports that about 3 billion people worldwide continue to cook and heat their homes using either open fires or cookstoves that burn coal, wood or animal and/or crop waste. As a result, more than 4 million people die prematurely from illnesses attributable to the indoor air pollution arising from these cooking methods. Children are among those disproportionately affected. Soot inhalation from household air pollution is the cause of more than half the premature deaths due to pneumonia among children under age 5, according to WHO.[1]

    To combat these negative impacts to human health and the environment, several countries are working together to encourage the adoption of clean cooking and heating methods. Nepal is a national partner of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, a public-private partnership hosted by the United Nations Foundation that is working to create a demand for clean and efficient household cooking appliances and fuels. The alliance has set a goal for 100 million households to adopt clean and efficient cookstoves and fuels by 2020.[2]

    The Red Panda Network is helping make this happen. With funding from the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), San Diego Zoo, Rotterdam Zoo and the Disney Conservation Fund, RPN worked with local families to design cookstoves that not only met their needs but also those of the environment. Each cookstove cost approximately US$490.

    As a result of the installation of the new cookstoves in each household, RPN has seen a nearly 50% reduction in the consumption of firewood. The new stoves use 15 kg of wood per day as opposed to the 33 kg used by the older, inefficient stoves.

    Women cooking in improved cooking stove

    Women cooking in improved cooking stove

    In addition, the stoves can burn unwanted litter, leaves and the fruit of trees, which were previously unused, wrote Damber Bista, Conservation Manager for RPN, Asia Division, in an email interview.

    Other improvements include:

    • reduced indoor air pollution as the ventilation system on the new cookstoves moves the smoke from the kitchen to the outside;
    • reduced cooking time (from 17 minutes to 12 minutes to boil 1.5 liters of water);
    • firewood collection time cut in half;
    • improved indoor heating; and
    • reduced demand for extra firewood for boiling water since the new stoves include a water boiling system.
      red panda on mossy tree

    According to Bista, families in Dobate were quick to adapt to the new cookstoves. RPN plans to promote similar stoves in rural areas of Ilam, Panchthar and Taplejung Districts in the future, he wrote.

    Please check out this short documentary on our Improved Cooking Stove efforts!

    Dawn Peterson
    Writing and Communications Volunteer
    Red Panda Network

    World Health Organization. (Updated February 2016). Household air pollution and health. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs292/en/

    Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. (n.d.). About. Retrieved from Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves website http://cleancookstoves.org/about/

  • Filming the Firefox

    One of the simplest aspects of wildlife conservation also happens to be one of the most challenging: spreading awareness.

    The simple part is putting the information out there; the challenge is getting people to pay attention to it. That’s why, in addition to their own awareness efforts, organizations like the Red Panda Network (RPN) actively collaborate with artists, professionals and communicators who share their passion for wildlife conservation, and whose unique platforms can further extend the reach of their crucial message. Recently, RPN has partnered with an up-and-coming professional who is using one of today’s most powerful mediums—film—to broadcast the plight of the endangered red panda to a wider audience.

    Meet Gunjan Menon, a film student at University of the West of England whose love of cinematography, wildlife and red pandas in particular has inspired her short film in the making, "The Firefox Guardians." Planning to film on location in Eastern Nepal, Gunjan is currently running an Indiegogo campaign to fund her ambitious project.

    Creator of The Firefox Guardian, Gunjan Menon.
    Creator of The Firefox Guardian, Gunjan Menon.

    Born and raised in New Delhi, India, Gunjan relates how her interests in film and wildlife coincided early on in life. “I started taking photos at a young age, playing around with my dad’s camera phone,” she remembers. “Most of my subjects were animals—primarily birds, dogs and cats—and I enjoyed trying to capture their emotions in my photos. I was also fascinated by the world of cinema, including David Attenborough’s wildlife documentaries, which made me want to learn the art form. When I saw Mike Pandey’s ‘Shores of Silence,’ a short film that sparked legislative action to protect whale sharks, I realized what a strong medium filmmaking was for bringing about change. This inspired me to combine my love for wildlife with my passion for filmmaking.”

    After high school, Gunjan attended Symbiosis Centre for Media & Communication in Pune, India, where she majored in Audio-Visual Filmmaking, and is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in Wildlife Filmmaking at UWE Bristol. When asked to choose a subject for her upcoming short film project, Gunjan already knew what she wanted to do. “I’m a crazy red panda lover and have been following the work of Red Panda Network for a long time,” she says. “It all started when I saw Kung Fu Pandaat age 16. I was trying to figure out which animal ‘Master Shifu’ was based on, and when I found out he was a red panda, I felt bad that I’d never heard of this animal before. However, once I discovered them, I immediately fell in love. Later, when I had to choose a subject for my own wildlife film, the choice was obvious to me: I would make a film highlighting the endangered status of red pandas.”

    Firefox Guardian_official poster

    While her film’s premise seemed straightforward enough, Gunjan had no idea of the thematic turn it would take. “My film was initially going to focus on red panda eco-tourism in Eastern Nepal, but after reading an article on RPN’s website entitled ‘The Changing Role of Women in Red Panda Conservation,’ I was inspired to take a different angle.” The article relates the story of Menuka Bhhatari, a member of RPN’s Forest Guardians, a local taskforce committed to overseeing the PIT Red Panda Protected Forest in Eastern Nepal. As one of just two women in the Forest Guardians’ 54-member team, Menuka had experienced opposition for her unconventional choice of livelihood, told by village elders that she ought to be doing housework instead. Menuka’s story resonated deeply with Gunjan. “As an aspiring filmmaker who’s been told I can’t do certain things because I’m a girl, I could relate to Menuka’s struggle. After reading the article, I knew this was the heart of the story I wanted to tell, in conjunction with that of the red pandas.”

    To film “The Firefox Guardians,” Gunjan will attend one of RPN’s eco-trips to Eastern Nepal, where she will spend two weeks living and working alongside the Forest Guardians. “Besides telling Menuka’s story, I want to focus on the community aspect of red panda conservation, as the species’ survival depends on the many people who work to protect them,” she says. “I want to highlight the Forest Guardians’ special bond with the pandas, and hear stories from locals who’ve reformed their ways of life to become advocates for these threatened creatures.” Of course, Gunjan’s main challenge as a filmmaker will be capturing the red pandas themselves on film, but she is optimistic that she will succeed with the Forest Guardians’ help.

    Menuka Bhattarai and her Forest Guardian colleagues.
    Menuka Bhattarai and her Forest Guardian colleagues.

    After filming wraps, Gunjan will return to UWE and begin the post-production process. Following the film’s premiere, she has plans for a strong social media campaign to ensure it gets seen by as many people as possible. “Visual media spreads like wildfire these days and is one of the fastest ways to convey conservation issues and inspire action,” she explains. “Besides the official cut of the film, I will be making an interactive online version, where viewers will be able to choose from different stories to watch and get immersed in. It’s a very new form of storytelling that’s aimed at reaching a wider audience.”

    All in all, Gunjan says her goal is to produce a film that’s not merely a nature documentary, but an inspiring account of struggle against adversity. “In addition to relating the plight of red pandas, I want to convey Menuka’s perspective, including her love for the pandas and her challenges as a female Forest Guardian. You might call it a conservation documentary packaged as an adventure/love story. By documenting Menuka’s struggle as a woman fighting for her dreams, I hope to motivate other young women to fight for theirs.”

    Want to help Gunjan on her mission to film the firefox? Click here to visit her Indiegogo campaign and become a backer. You can also check out “The Firefox Guardians” on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

    James Florence
    Writing and Communications Volunteer
    Red Panda Network

  • The Changing Role of Women in Red Panda Conservation

    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.

    Menuka Bhattarai and Forest Guardian colleagues during training.
    Menuka Bhattarai and Forest Guardian colleagues during training.

    “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.”

    Thread-making during nettle fiber extraction.
    Thread-making during nettle fiber extraction.

    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.”

    RPN Conservation Coordinator, Pema Sherpa, during national survey.
    RPN Conservation Coordinator, Pema Sherpa, during national survey.
    Local women with red panda posters.
    Local women with red panda posters.

    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.”

    Shane Downing
    Writing and Communications Volunteer
    Red Panda NetworkPlease check out Shane Downing’s work at  www.scdowning.com
    Twitter: @SCdowning

  • The Role of Zoos in Red Panda Conservation

    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.

    Cubs born at John Ball Zoo in Michigan, United States.  Top photo: red panda Carson of Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle.
    Cubs born at John Ball Zoo in Michigan, United States. Top photo: red panda Carson of Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle.
    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.

    Smiling panda at Paradise Wildlife Park.
    Smiling panda at Paradise Wildlife Park.

    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!

    Photo taken during RPN ecotrip in eastern Nepal.
    Photo taken during RPN ecotrip in eastern Nepal.

    Chris Turner-Neal
    Writing and Communications Volunteer
    Red Panda Network

  • An Alliance to Stop Red Panda Poaching

    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.

    Poacher caught on camera trap

    Poacher caught on camera trap.

    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."

    An anti-poaching monitoring team.

    An anti-poaching monitoring team.

    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."

    red panda from below_night

    Red panda at night in Eastern Nepal.

    Dawn Peterson
    Writing and Communications Volunteer
    Red Panda Network

  • First National Survey of Red Pandas in Nepal

    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.

    Red Panda Range_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.
    RPN Conservation Coordinator, Pema Sherpa, during national survey.
    RPN Conservation Coordinator, Pema Sherpa, during national survey.
    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.
    Red panda spotted during survey.
    Red panda spotted during 2016 national survey.
    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!

    Danielle Lippe
    Writing and Communications Volunteer
    Red Panda Network