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Updated: March 7, 2011 17:48 IST

Hunt for the Red Panda

REEJA RADHAKRISHNAN
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Mr. Recluse : Soft thick fur and a thick, bushy tail. Photo : Parth Sanyal
Mr. Recluse : Soft thick fur and a thick, bushy tail. Photo : Parth Sanyal

Also known as a cat bear or a fire fox, these creatures are on the endangered list. They live in the north eastern part of the country. They weigh around four kilos and are reddish brown in colour.

So you thought Pandas lived in far away China barring the fake ones you get to see on television commercials these days? Well, this time you are going to meet our very own desi panda, an elusive little fellow who lives in the north- eastern parts of our country. Presenting the Red Panda who is incidentally the state animal of Sikkim.

This guy looks nothing like the giant black and white panda .In fact he's not even related to his larger namesake and looks more like a raccoon. The only thing the two have in common is their love for bamboo. Red Pandas are known as ‘cat bear' or even fire fox (now you know who that browser and bike is named after). He is just a little bigger than your neighbourhood kitty weighing around four kilos and is reddish brown in colour. He has soft thick fur and a thick, bushy tail, which he wraps around himself like a blanket .That sure keeps him warm as a toast in the cold climes he lives in. His tail has a ringed pattern of brown and red and he also uses it to balance himself on the tree branches he hangs out in.

Red Pandas are found in Sikkim, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam besides Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and China. Since they live in the higher mountain areas, and spend all their time up the trees — in dense forests and bamboo thickets, you hardly get to see them. In any case, they are painfully shy creatures and like to lead solitary lives. As I told you earlier, they love their bamboo but unlike the giant pandas, they are not averse to exploring other summer options like fruits, roots, leaves, mushrooms and an occasional bird's egg or two. But this excessive bamboo diet does not have any nutritional value as it's low on energy content. This makes our friend very lazy and lethargic.

It is only when a red panda decides to woo a mate that he gets kind of social. When babies are on the way, mama will make a nest of grass and little twigs in a cosy tree hollow or a cave.. They are born furry but coloured a pale yellow. It takes three months for them to become a true blue ‘red' panda by which time they can see too. When they are a year old, they become pretty much independent and leave mama panda to go solo. Don't ask me why but they seem to prefer it that way.

These adorable little fellows are on the endangered species list too and are protected under the Indian Wildlife Act. In India at least, the threat is not so much poaching but felling of trees and soil erosion. Since they live in difficult terrain not easily accessible for humankind they are safe from my biggest enemy — the Poacher. But in China and Bhutan, they are hunted for their fur with which they make caps and clothing. The red pandas were also caught and sold to zoos as pets until the CITES (Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species) guys intervened and made it illegal. There are over 300 red pandas in the zoos across the world today. But I guess that's where you'll have a chance to meet up with him as Mr Recluse shuns company in the wild.

A Children for Animals and Nature Unlimited (CANU) Initiative

Mail to sherook@wildmail.com

Did you know?

In China, newly weds use a red panda's tail hat as a good luck charm. Good for them but bad news for our little friend.

Red Panda was introduced to Europe by one Thomas Hardwick in 1821 some 48 years before the burly black and white Giant Panda became familiar in the West.

Red Pandas spend over 13 hours a day foraging and eating bamboo. The ladies are bigger eaters. They eat over 200, 00 leaves a day!

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