Like the giant panda, the red panda has an extra digit on each paw that works as a ‘thumb’ to help grasp bamboo. This ‘thumb’ is actually a modified wrist bone covered by a fleshy pad.
Red pandas are solitary, just like giant pandas. Similarly, females are only fertile for a couple of days a year and males seek them out only around this time. Despite the difference in size in the adults, newborn red pandas weigh 100g, as heavy as panda cubs at birth.
The raccoon connection
Despite similarities with the giant pandas, the red panda is more closely related to the raccoons. Like members of the raccoon family, the red panda scent-marks its territory with urine and anal gland secretions. It even has scent glands between its footpads, which exude a colourless liquid. The red panda has a unique cone-like structure at the bottom of its tongue. This is used to bring liquids found on scent trails to a gland inside its mouth to ‘test’ them.
Fire foxes under fire
Where they overlap in range with the high-profile giant pandas, the red pandas are benefitting from conservation efforts like panda reserves and green corridors. Poaching, logging and other human activities are also regulated. However, populations in locations outside of China are experiencing increased hunting pressure due to high demand for their skins and meat in China. Live animals are also being smuggled due to the red panda’s rising popularity as an exotic pet.