Red pandas are tree-dwelling mammals native to the temperate forests of the Himalayas. Because of their interesting reddish fur, striped tails and expressive faces, they are very popular animals in their native Asia and have been featured in cartoons, as toys and as mascots. However, red pandas are also critically endangered. Human actions, such as deforestation, poaching, accidental trapping and an illegal pet trade have caused the wild population of red pandas to shrink to just around 10,000 individuals.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
Red pandas are endangered for several reasons. Four of the main reasons are deforestation, poaching, accidental trapping, and an illegal pet trade.
Struggles With Deforestation
Like almost all endangered animals, loss of habitat is one of the main reasons for red pandas' dwindling numbers. Red panda habitats, namely Himalayan forests, are being cut down at an alarming rate each year. Usually, these forests are cleared due to logging operations or to convert the forested area into farmland where crops can be grown and cattle can graze.
Even when forests are only partially cut down, deforestation can still lead to massive population losses for red pandas. This is because the population of red pandas becomes fragmented, along with the forest. In other words, groups of red pandas which could usually meet (and mate) with each other instead are kept apart. This means that these separated groups can only mate with other red pandas nearby, leading to less genetic diversity. Without enough genetic diversity, groups of red pandas can eventually become unhealthy and die off, due to inbreeding.
Poaching of Red Pandas
It may seem unthinkable that someone would purposefully kill endangered animals, but sadly poaching is common enough to be a severe problem for red pandas. Their bright, reddish fur and striped tails make them prime targets for those who would sell their pelts for profit. In certain rural areas, hats made from red panda fur were traditionally worn as good luck tokens for special occasions. Some people insist on carrying on this tradition, despite it being illegal. Poachers also kill red pandas due to the mistaken belief that certain red panda body parts have medicinal properties. Traditional medicines made with red panda body parts are illegal to buy and sell, but a black market trade still exists for these products.
When people live too close to red pandas' forest habitat, it can spell danger for the endangered creatures. Even without meaning to, people can kill red pandas, such as when red pandas are caught in traps that were set for other animals. Using large, strong, metal bear traps, humans often intend to catch animals that they see as dangerous pests, such as wolves or bears. But unsuspecting red pandas can also wander into these traps. Due to their small size, red pandas who get caught in such traps are usually critically injured, and cannot survive. Red pandas may also fall victim to snare-style traps meant for animals such as wild pigs, which humans use for food.
Illegal Pet Trade
There's no doubt about it: Red pandas are appealing animals. They're widely considered to be cute and personable. While it is good that people are fascinated by red pandas and want to learn more about them, there is also a downside to red pandas' popularity: namely, people who like red pandas so much that they want to keep them as pets.
While it may seem fun to keep a red panda as a pet, it is horrible idea because red pandas are not domesticated animals. Unlike dogs or cats, they have not been bred to deal with the stress of captivity. This stress usually leads pet red pandas to become fearful and aggressive toward their owners. Unlike domesticated animals, they cannot be properly trained and require a highly specialized diet. Most pet red pandas die due to a lack of proper care. Since all pet red pandas are illegally stolen from the wild, the illegal pet trade has had a devastating effect on red pandas' wild population.
While it is sad that human actions have led to red pandas becoming endangered, there is also hope. Laws are being passed each year that make forest conservation more of a priority. Volunteers and even governments have formed organizations to police rural forests and put a stop to as much poaching as possible. Humans may have led to red pandas' decline, but it is possible that humans can also be the force behind saving this amazing animal as well.
About the Author
Maria Cook is a freelance and fiction writer from Indianapolis, Indiana. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Butler University in Indianapolis. She has written about science as it relates to eco-friendly practices, conservation and the environment for Green Matters.