Animal Info - Red Panda

(Other Names: Bear-cat, Bright Panda, Cat-bear, Common Panda, Fire Fox, Lesser Panda, Nigalya Ponya, Panda Chico, Panda Éclatant, Panda Rojo, Petit Panda, Poonya, Red Cat-bear, Sankam, Thokya, Wah, Wokdonka, Woker, Ye)

Ailurus fulgens

Status: Endangered


1. Profile (Picture)
2. Tidbits
3. Status and Trends (IUCN Status, Countries Where Currently Found, Population Estimates, History of Distribution, Threats and Reasons for Decline)
4. Data on Biology and Ecology (Size and Weight, Habitat, Age to Maturity, Gestation Period, Birth Season, Birth Rate, Early Development, Dispersal, Maximum Reproductive Age, Maximum Age, Diet, Energy and Metabolism, Behavior, Social Organization, Age and Gender Distribution, Mortality and Survival, Density and Range)
5. References


Pictures: Red Panda #1 (11 Kb JPEG) and Red Panda #2 (67 Kb GIF) (Czech Web Site); Red Panda #3 (36 Kb JPEG); Red Panda #4 (50 Kb JPEG)

The red panda (which is much smaller than the giant panda) resembles a raccoon in size and appearance. The red panda weighs 3 - 6 kg (7 - 13 lb). It lives in mountain forests with a bamboo understory, at altitudes generally between 1500 and 4800 m (5000 - 15,700'). Red pandas almost exclusively eat bamboo. They are good tree climbers and spend most of their time in trees when not foraging. A female red panda picks a location such as a tree hollow or rock crevice for a maternal den, where she will bear 1 - 5 young. Red pandas are solitary, except for the mating period and the time when a mother and its young are together.

The red panda is found in a mountainous band from Nepal through northeastern India and Bhutan and into China, Laos and northern Myanmar. It is rare and continues to decline. It has already become extinct in 4 of the 7 Chinese provinces in which it was previously found. The major threats to red pandas are loss and fragmentation of habitat due to deforestation (and the resulting loss of bamboo) for timber, fuel and agricultural land; poaching for the pet and fur trades; and competition from domestic livestock.


*** The first known written record of the red panda occurs in a 13th-century Chou dynasty scroll. It was introduced to Europeans by Thomas Hardwicke in 1821 (48 years before the giant panda was reported in the West). He called it "Wah" after the sound of its loud call.  He also mentioned a local name, "poonya," which was eventually anglicized to "panda." (Roberts 1992a)

*** "There are few of the Mammalia which are decorated with such refulgently beautiful fur as that which decks the body of the Panda, also called the Chitwa or Wah in its native Nepal. ..  It .. does not seem to occur in sufficient numbers to render its beautiful fur an object of commercial value." (Wood 1860)

*** "Quite a lot of those beautiful animals, the red panda, come from Nepal each year to Calcutta for export to foreign zoos... they are a favorite pet of India's Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru." (Gee 1964)

*** A female red panda can eat approximately 200,000 bamboo leaves in one day. (Reid et al. 1991)

*** The red panda’s diet specialization is very unusual in mammals. Only a handful of animals are predominantly dependent on bamboo, including the giant panda, bamboo lemurs (golden bamboo lemur, greater bamboo lemur and bamboo lemur (Hapalemur griseus)) found in Madagascar, and bamboo rats (including Rhizomys sinensis, R. pruinosus, and R. sumatrensis) found in China and Southeast Asia. (Roberts 1992)

Status and Trends

IUCN Status:

Countries Where the Red Panda Is Currently Found:

2004: Occurs in Bhutan, China, India, Laos, Myanmar and Nepal. (IUCN 2004)

Population Estimates:

[Note: Figures given are for wild populations only.]

History of Distribution:

The red panda is found in the Himalayas, as well as in other high mountains of northern Myanmar and western Sichuan and Yunnan Provinces, China. Its confirmed westernmost range seems to be the Namlung Valley in Mugu District and the Lake Rara region of northwestern Nepal. The southern limit is the Liakiang Range of western Yunnan, China and the northern and eastern limit is the upper Min Valley of western Sichuan, China. (Roberts 1992)

There are two subspecies of the red panda. The range of Ailurus fulgens fulgens extends from Nepal through northeastern India (West Bengal, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh), Bhutan and into China (Bahuguna et al. 1998). A.f. styani is only found in China, in the areas of the Hengduan Mountains in Sichuan and the East Nujiang River of Yunnan Province (Wei et al. 1998), and in northern Myanmar (Roberts 1998).

The red panda was previously distributed in China over a larger area than today, including western Sichuan and Yunnan, southern Shanxi and Gansu, northern Guizhou, and the southwest of Tibet and Qinghai Provinces. However, it has become extinct in Shanxi, Gansu, Qinghai and Guizhou Provinces and its range is now confined to Sichuan, Yunnan, and Tibet. The probable area of red panda habitat in China is approximately 37,000 sq km (14,000 sq mi). (Wei et al. 1998) The extent of occurrence of the red panda in India is about 170,000 sq km (65,000 sq mi), although its area of occupancy within this may only be about 25,000 sq km (9600 sq mi). (Choudhury 2001)

There is increasing evidence that the red panda is rare and patchily distributed and is continuing to decline.

Red Panda Distribution Map (55 Kb JPEG) (AZA Small Carn. TAG)

Threats and Reasons for Decline:

The major threats confronting red pandas are loss and fragmentation of habitat due to deforestation (and the resulting loss of bamboo understory) for timber, fuel (including for tourism) and agricultural land; poaching for the pet and fur trades; and competition from domestic livestock (resulting in habitat degradation).

The relative importance of these different factors varies between different regions in the red panda's range and is not well understood (Glatston 1994)

The fur of red pandas is used to make hats and clothing by local people in China. The fur hat with its long, luxurious tail at the back looks beautiful and warm. In Yunnan Province, this type of hat is still desired by newlyweds, because it was regarded as a talisman for a happy marriage in the past. (Wei et al. 1998)

Data on Biology and Ecology

Size and Weight:

The red panda has a head and body length of 50 - 64 cm (20 - 25"). It weighs 3 - 6 kg (7 - 13 lb).


The red panda lives in forests with a bamboo understory, at altitudes generally between 1500 and 4800 m (5000 - 15,700'); however, it lives at 700 - 1400 m (2300 - 4600') in Meghalaya, India. The types of forests it inhabits include montane/subalpine temperate, subtropical, and (in Meghalaya, India) tropical forests. Seasonal monsoons, trapped by southern mountain ranges and slopes, support a mixed forest of fir, deciduous hardwoods, and rhododendrons. (Roberts 1992, Choudhury 2001)

In the Xiangling Mountains of Sichuan, China, red pandas showed a strong habitat preference for deep slopes facing south with a dense forest canopy. They preferred high density bamboo stands with thin basal diameters. (Wei et al. 1999)

The red panda is one of the species that live in the Mountains of Southwest China Biodiversity Hotspot (Cons. Intl.) as well as the Eastern Himalayan Alpine Meadows and Eastern Himalayan Broadleaf & Conifer Forests Global 200 Ecoregions. (Olson & Dinerstein 1998, Olson & Dinerstein 1999) 

Age to Maturity:

Young red pandas become sexually mature at approximately 18 months.

Gestation Period:

The red panda's gestation period averages 131 days, with a range of approximately 110 (possibly 90) - 160 days, including a period of delayed implantation averaging about 40 days and ranging from 20 (possibly 0) - 70 days  (Schaller 1993, Burnie & Wilson 2001).

Birth Season:

Female red pandas give birth mainly in June. Mating occurs during winter, usually between early January and mid-March. (Pradhan 1999)

Birth Rate:

Litters contain 1 - 5, usually 2, young (Burnie & Wilson 2001).

Early Development:

Young attain adult size at approximately 1 year (Roberts 1992).


The young seem to stay with the mother for about a year, or until the next litter is about to be born. (Nowak 1999)

Maximum Reproductive Age:

Both females and males have reproduced at up to an age of 12 years (Roberts 1992).

Maximum Age:

At least 17.5 years (captivity) (Nowak 1999). Generally captive animals don't live longer than 8 - 10 years (Roberts 1992).


The red pandas almost exclusively eats bamboo (mostly leaves, supplemented in the spring with bamboo shoots).   It sometimes supplements its diet during the summer with fruit.  It has also been reported occasionally to eat a wide variety of other items including berries, blossoms, fungi, seeds, acorns, eggs, young birds, small rodents, and insects.

Energy and Metabolism:

The red panda’s digestive efficiency is similar to the giant panda’s at 24% dry matter, necessitating daily food consumption of up to 30% of body weight for maintenance (Reid et al. 1991).

Red pandas spend as much as 13 hours a day searching for and eating bamboo. Only about 25 % of the already limited energy in bamboo is extracted. Red pandas have low basal rates of metabolism, comparable to that of tree sloths.  This strategy appears to be a means of reducing total energy expenditure in an arboreal, sedentary species that feeds on a food with low energy density (i.e. bamboo). (Roberts 1992)


The red panda is a good tree climber and spends most of its time in trees (87% of sightings of red pandas in one study (Pradhan 1999)) when it is not foraging. It uses trees not only for feeding but also to escape ground-based predators, and to sunbathe high in the canopy during winter (Burnie & Wilson 2001). It is variously reported as being least active in the night, and most active during the day with slightly decreased activity around midday (Reid et al. 1991), or as foraging on the ground primarily at night and sleeping in trees during the day (Roberts 1998).

A female red panda uses a tree hollow, branch fork, tree root, bamboo thicket or rock crevice for a maternal den, which she fashions and lines with branches, leaves, moss and other plant material.

Social Organization:

Red pandas are solitary, except for the mating period and the time when a mother and its young are together.  

The home range of a male usually overlaps the home ranges of more than one female.

Age and Gender Distribution:

The male:female ratio in a sample of 100 infants born in 78 litters in captivity was 48:52 (Roberts 1992).

Mortality and Survival:

Mortality Rate:

Density and Range:


  • 1 adult red panda/2 - 3 sq km (1 adult red panda/0.8 - 1.2 sq mi) (Wolong, China) (Reid et al. 1991)
  • 1 red panda/3.9 sq km (1 red panda/1.5 sq mi) (Singalili National Park, Darjeeling, India) (Bahuguna et al. 1998)
  • In part of Langtang National Park in Nepal, density was estimated as 1 red panda/2.0 - 11.0 sq km (1 red panda/0.8 - 4 sq mi), with averages of 1 red panda/2.8 and 4.4 sq km (1 red panda/1.1 and 1.7 sq mi) in 1986 and 1987, respectively (Choudhury 2001) 
  • The lowest recorded average density in India was 1 red panda/4.4 sq km (1 red panda/1.7 sq mi) (Choudhury 2001)  

Home Range:

  • One adult female: 0.94 sq km (0.36 sq mi); one adult male: 1.11 sq km (0.43 sq mi) (Wolong, China) (Reid et al. 1991) 
  • Females: about 2.6 sq km (1 sq mi); males: about 5.2 sq km (2 sq mi) (Roberts 1992)
  • One female: about 4.0 sq km (1.5 sq mi) (Wolong, China) (Schaller 1993)
  • Females: 1.3 sq km (0.5 sq mi); males: up to 9 sq km (3.5 sq mi) (Langtang National Park, Nepal) (Schaller 1993)


AZA Small Carn. TAG, Bahuguna et al. 1998, Burnie & Wilson 2001, Choudhury 2001, Cons. Intl., Czech Web Site, Fox et al. 1996Gee 1964, Glatston 1994, IUCN 1994, IUCN 1996, IUCN 2000, IUCN 2003a, IUCN 2004, Nowak 1999, Olson & Dinerstein 1998, Olson & Dinerstein 1999, Pradhan 1999, Rabinowitz 1998, Reid et al. 1991, Roberts 1992, Roberts 1992a, Roberts 1998, Schaller 1993Schaller et al. 1985, Wei et al. 1998, Wei et al. 1999, Wood 1860

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Last modified: April 17, 2006;

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