June 26th, 2013 by James Ayre
A red panda recently escaped from its enclosure at the National Zoo in Washington DC — sometime around 6 pm on Sunday evening. How does a relatively large animal like that escape from a zoo? While the ‘how’ is still an open question, the ‘why’ certainly isn’t — the clever animal no doubt has not adapted completely to living within the very confined space of its enclosure at the zoo…
The red panda in question — referred to as Rusty — has now been found and recaptured though, after being spotted in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington DC. With how much press the panda’s escape has been getting I’ve decided to provide a brief overview of the very interesting species, along with some photos. Enjoy. 🙂
The red panda — Ailurus fulgens — is a relatively small arboreal mammal that is native to the eastern Himalayas and southwestern China. The species is currently classified as ‘Vulnerable’ by the IUCN. The wild population is currently estimated consist of under 10,000 sexually mature individuals. The wild population is on a steep decline though — primarily as a result of habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, poaching, and the inbreeding that’s occurring as a result of the declining population/fragmenting habitat.
The red panda is a bit bigger than the average domestic house cat. The species possesses a reddish-brown fur, along with a long, furry tail. While the species does feed primarily on bamboo, they will eat almost anything — fruit, eggs, birds, mammals, and insects. The red panda is typically a solitary animal, that is most active nocturnally.
The species is the last remaining member of the genus Ailurus and the family Ailuridae. It had previously been classified as being a member of either the raccoon or the bear families, but genetic research has shown them to be only very distantly related to either of those families, hence being placed in its own family — Ailuridae. Currently there are two subspecies of red panda recognized.
Some interesting notes on the species:
– The species possesses a ‘false thumb’ just like the giant panda does, allowing it to grip bamboo and climb trees more easily.
– Fossils of extinct red panda species have been found all over in the world, including in Europe and North America.
– “When descending a tree headfirst, the red panda rotates its ankle to control its descent, one of the few climbing species to do so.”
– The species generally lives at elevations of between 7,200 and 15,700 feet. And prefers temperatures between 50 and 77 °F.
– They are excellent climbers and generally spend a lot of their time foraging in trees.
– A few days before giving birth the females begin gathering materials to make a nest with — brushwood, grass, and leaves — and then construct one in a hollow tree or a rock crevice.
– “A 40% decrease in red panda populations has been reported in China over the last 50 years.”
– “Red pandas are often sold to private collectors at exorbitant prices. In some parts of Nepal and India, red pandas are kept as pets,” according to Wikipedia.
– “In Southwest China, red pandas are hunted for their fur, especially for the highly valued bushy tails from which hats are produced. In these areas, the fur is often used for local cultural ceremonies, and in weddings, the bridegroom traditionally carries the hide.”
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