Learn what the future holds for Red Panda Network. The full version of this article is only available here! Earth Island Journal: Spring 2010, Vol. 25 No. 1.

Hear the word “panda” and images of the large black and white animal are immediately conjured up. Giant pandas have become a worldwide symbol for animal conservation.

It is not surprising that the plight of red panda, appropriately dubbed the lesser known panda, is largely unknown to the public without its fair share of the media spotlight.

During his Master’s research on wild red panda in Nepal, Brian Williams was searching for funding when he soon discovered that no such organization existed and thought it would be interesting to start one. Hence, Red Panda Project came to life in 2005. Five years later and the organization, now operating as Red Panda Network (RPN), is thriving and expanding from Nepal into three additional range countries, China, India and Burma.

In its infancy, RPN focused its efforts in eastern Nepal, establishing a community-based monitoring program. This year RPN will be applying its model for community-based monitoring in China, India and Burma. RPN is working to raise awareness about red panda by strengthening its presence on the web, maximizing social media tools and conducting two awareness campaigns, one internationally and one locally focused.

RPN’s international awareness campaign, International Red Panda Day, has two major goals. First, RPN hopes to raise general awareness among zoo goers worldwide about red panda through a coordinated global campaign with zoos exhibiting red panda. Second, to raise the funding needed for a local awareness campaign in China, where in the last six months two red pandas were observed for sale. Proceeds from International Red Panda Day will contribute to the China awareness campaign that will take place in villages surrounding red panda habitat in western China.

Over the next five years RPN plans to transform from an organization based on a single animal to one broadening its scope to focus on deforestation in general and utilizing different species to conduct Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) projects in marginalized communities around the world. It will start in Nepal by creating a REDD project. From working closely with villagers on its monitoring project, RPN learned that local communities have the capacity and ability to make informed decisions but are missing the resources and technical expertise needed to implement and create plans of action for protecting their livelihood. RPN saw the need to partner with local communities to empower them to stop deforestation in a way that works best for them – using carbon financing to fund alternatives to cutting down forest habitat and support the creation of a community-protected area that is recognized by the government but is locally managed and run.

With the world catching on to sustainable carbon financing as a best practice for conservation, the red panda has the opportunity to become the face of REDD projects. Soon the words red panda will be synonymous with halting deforestation and animal conservation, and RPN is just fine with that.