With that unforgettable face, rusty red body and long, bushy and striped tail, everybody knows the Red Panda. But what, exactly, is a Red Panda? First described by Thomas Hardwicke in 1821, it was initially named ‘Wha’ after the cry it made. However, in 1825 it was formally described to science by Frederic Cuvier, who gave it the name it still holds today, Red Panda, Ailurus fulgens. The word fulgens is aptly derived from the Greek meaning shining bright; while Ailurus is not so on-the-nose, and is actually derived from cat!
Despite the naming he chose, Cuvier himself believed it was more closely related to the raccoons, while other taxonomists believed it was in a family with the much different looking Giant Panda, and still, others believed it was a bear. Modern genetics tell us yet another story, though, and today it is placed within its own monotypic family, Ailuridae.
Whatever its taxonomic affinities, the Red Panda is one of those ‘must-see’ animals. Inhabiting a rather small range in the eastern Himalayas, it is only found in higher montane forest where firs and rhododendrons grow over a bamboo-rich understorey. Furthermore, it is quite unusual as a ‘carnivore’, as its diet consists almost entirely of bamboo, and is supplemented with berries, nuts, eggs and the occasional small bird or mammal.
Threatened by habitat loss and long considered elusive, the SingalilaRidge that spans the borders of both India and Nepal is probably the best place in the world to seek it out. Here, a bi-national conservation effort is working to protect the Red Panda and its habitat while still allowing visitors the chance to see them. Based in a Nepali homestay, and with the assistance of local trackers and conservationists, our Red Panda Quest offers us a very high likelihood of getting several encounters with this marvelous mammal.
Our time here will be enriched in other ways as well. The highest mountains in the world tower above these dense forests, where we are sure to find other exciting mammals lurking. The birding here is also excellent, and on top of possibly enjoying dream birds like Satyr Tragopan and Fire-tailed Myzornis, an on-site bird feeding station will provide us with excellent photographic opportunities.
Our reconnaissance trip just a few months ago was extremely successful as we enjoyed several encounters with this beautiful species. If you’re interested in joining us on our inaugural tour next year, be sure to book your spot before it is too late!
India – Red Panda Quest
Tour dates: 16 – 24 Mar 2020 (9 days)
Tour price: INR255,000 *USD3,630