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Red pandas may be threatened by small-scale trade

Two studies investigated the scale and potential threat of continued trade in red pandas and found that while reports are low, the occurrence of isolated incidents may be enough to threaten species survival.

The red panda, Ailurus fulgens, is a cat-sized, arboreal mammal which lives in temperate forests in the eastern Himalayas and southwestern China. It prefers bamboo, but also eats eggs, birds, insects, and small mammals. While previously grouped with bears and raccoons, the red panda is now separated into a distinct genus; it is only distantly related to the giant panda. The red panda is listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN, with estimates of less than 10,000 mature individuals in the wild.

Red pandas were traditionally hunted for their fur by human populations. They were also poached for the zoo and pet trade. But since the banning of commercial trade by CITES in 1995, reports of captured pandas have been low.

Red pandas acclimate well to captivity. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

The two publications – Red Panda: Biology and conservation of the first panda by Angela R. Glatston and Sikkim—under the sign of the red panda , by several authors – investigated the truth of these reports and found that although large-scale commercial trade in red pandas has indeed dropped off considerably, there are still a number of troubling isolated incidents.

“Although traditional hunting of Red Pandas for their fur appears to be mostly under control, fur and fur parts of Red Pandas are still occasionally reported as illegally offered and traded in Nepal.” Roland Melisch, one of the authors of Sikkim—under the sign of the red panda , told the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network (TRAFFIC). “Furthermore, a completely new threat was revealed in 2009 when a business traveler visiting Guangdong, China, was offered fresh game meat from a caged Red Panda in a restaurant.”

The studies indicate that even the occurrence of isolated incidents can be damaging to the species.

“For a species that occurs naturally at low density, even low levels of hunting could pose a serious threat to Red Pandas and is a situation that demands close monitoring,” said Melisch.

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