Hi everyone! I am a 17-year old volunteer from Brisbane, Australia. In this first post, I’d like to share with you the story of my recent trip to Nepal to save my beloved Red Pandas! I should probably fill you in on my backstory. I have had an undying passion for Red Pandas for many, many years and the Red Panda Network has enabled me to transfer my passion into action. Actually, my adventure with the Red Panda Network began long before I ever walked on Nepali soil. My recent volunteer experience spent two years in the planning stages before it ever came to head. During that time, the Red Panda Network team was extremely enthusiastic and helpful, which set all my worries about visiting a developing country at the mere age of seventeen, to rest. On November 17, 2011, I began my epic adventure in Nepal, in search of the RedPanda….

The first part of my journey was set against Taplejung’s dense rhododendron forests. After a short 45-minute flight from Kathmandu to Bhadrapur in Nepal’s lowlands and an 11-hour bus ride to Taplejung, my search for the Red Panda had officially begun.

The Red Panda Network’s Taplejung team (Damber, Sumetra, Ramesh and Mahindra) and I combed the forest daily in search of Red Pandas. We found numerous signs indicating the presence of Red Pandas including, well… their scat, their fur, their resting sites, and even their paw prints. But sadly, I saw no Red Pandas in Taplejung…

After a small case of food poisoning, involving lots and lots of trips to the toilet, I made my way to Ilam to join the winners of the Mozilla-sponsored Eco Trip, a Red Panda Network initiative to increase awareness about the plight of the Red Panda. I met up with Andre (the Mozilla Eco Trip Video Contest winner) and his friend Jen, as well as Brian Williams (the founder of the Red Panda Network), and with Rajiv, Ramesh and Pinju, the field team who are very talented at finding Red Pandas! Again we plodded along through the same routine that I had followed in Taplejung, but this time… we were lucky!

After our first day of searching, we were heading back to ‘base’ for a well-deserved rest and lunch break, when suddenly we got a call on our walkie talkie from Pinju and Ramesh. They had found Red Pandas! And not just one, but two! And cubs! Quickly we raced to the spot where Pinju and Ramesh told us to meet them, and from there walked deep into the jungle until we found the two 12-month old cubs. They were absolutely adorable! The feeling that swept over me when I first saw them was indescribable! We named the cubs, Suntali and Speedy. Roughly translated, “Suntail” means ‘Orange Beautiful,’ which fit her perfectly. “Speedy” earned his name because after about two hours of watching these pandas nonstop, he scuttled down the tree so fast that if you had blinked, you would have missed him!!

Whenever I felt like my field schedule was tough, I reminded myself how hard the men and women of rural Nepal work! They are up by 6 AM and don’t go to bed until their guests do, which is often very late!

Based on my observations, the Red Panda Network’s conservation work is making a huge difference for the future of the Red Panda in Nepal, primarily because it is based around community development. It was an amazing experience to meet Red Panda Network Forest Guardians and discover that they are using the income they receive for their field work to develop their communities. In turn, this is creating a new appreciation for the Red Panda or “Habre” in rural Nepal.

Alas, my visit to Taplejung did not coincide with construction of the new Community Conservation Resource Center, but this provides one of many inspiring reasons to return to Nepal!

And now, I would like to leave you with a quote from the amazingly wonderful Dr. Jane Goodall: “What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”