Kung Fu Panda’s small but terrible martial arts master Shifu would be glad. BBC News reports that a male red panda has been transferred from the Paignton Zoo in Devon to Galloway Wildlife Conservation Park. Ruben joins Pichu, a female red panda at the park. In 2008 Pichu and her cub made headlines when they escaped together, being found months later. Pichu survived but her cub, a female named Isla, died from injuries.
Though a total population of two hardly seems reasonable grounds to celebrate, it is no small achievement. Red pandas are labeled as vulnerable or endangered with only an estimated 2,500 adult population all over the world. Its better known cousin, the Giant Panda, is declared endangered with only about 1,600 population remaining in the wild. Both animals have been featured in the highly popular animated movies Kung Fu Panda 1 & 2, with Jack Black playing Po, a giant panda, and Dustin Hoffman playing Shifu, a red panda.
The giant panda is better known than its diminutive cousin for its role as the symbol of WWF and species conservation in general. But the red panda is also gaining attention in popular culture, which helps encourage support in its conservation efforts. Hoffman’s role in the KFP movies as Shifu introduced many viewers to the species, as not many people recognized it in its first appearance. Some mistook it for other animals including lemurs and rodents. Well-known browser Firefox’s name is said to be derived from one of the other names of the red panda, fire fox. The red panda is also the state animal of Sikkim, India.
Red pandas are slightly bigger than cats and live predominantly in trees. They are of the Carnivora order but eats bamboo leaves, berries, and blossoms primarily. They have varying black and white markings on their heads, limbs, and belly. Red pandas are found in cool and temperate forests of the Himalayas, Myanmar, and southern China. They share a portion of their range with the giant pandas. Their reproduction rate in the wild is low, and predators like the snow leopard (incidentally, a snow leopard named Tai Lung was an antagonist in Kung Fu Panda 1) contribute to their high death rate in the wild.
Humans are also top predators of red pandas. Hunting and direct harvest are primary threats to the species, whose fur, hide and tail are considered valuable. They are also at risk from habitat fragmentation and/or loss. Conservation efforts for the red panda are active around the world but still needs support. Several successes in captive breeding programs are encouraging news for this charming species. Between 2003 and 2011 several red pandas were born in captive breeding programs around the world, from India to Norway to the US. A number has been released successfully in the wild.
More information about their life in the wild are needed to formulate strategies for long term conservation plans and establishment of protected areas. Awareness programs are also desirable to spread information about the plight of this beautiful creature.
If Shifu had his way, he would’ve perhaps kung fu-ed his species right out of its vulnerable/endangered status. As it is, it’s up to us to see that the red panda stays around for the next generations.
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