Red panda faces extinction, thanks to habitat loss

Kathmandu, October 2:

The clash between humans and nature is putting the existence of red pandas in peril, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Habitat loss or fragmentation due mainly to overgrazing and lack of awareness and scientific information on red panda ecology are to be blamed for the situation.

Dr Rinjan Shrestha, conservation biologist at WWF Nepal, said, “Human encroachment is contributing to loss and fragmentation of the habitats of red pandas”. He also held overgrazing and excessive extraction of natural resources from red pandas’ prime habitats responsible for the habitat loss.

It is estimated that there are 314 red pandas in Nepal. At present, red pandas can be seen in some of the protected areas like Langtang National Park, Sagarmatha National Park, Kanchanjunga Conservation Area Khangchenjunga and Annapurna Conservation Area. However, 70 per cent of the habitats are outside the protected areas.

Dr Pralad Yonzon, head of Resources Himalaya Foundation, said red pandas have their habitat up in the treetops at an altitude of 2,400m-4,000m, where bamboo grows. Bamboo is their major food.

During the rainy season, farmers take their cattle to the mountains for grazing and this is the same period red pandas beget cubs, he said.

According to local people kill if they see a red panda because of lack of awareness.

Studies say mortality rate of red pandas is 44 per cent among adults and 86 per cent among cubs. It is said that this is due to the disturbance caused by livestock grazing in Langtang National Park.

Dr Shrestha was of the view that the lack of public awareness regarding the status of the red panda as a protected animal, is hindering conservation attempts. In order to ensure their existence, he said local people should be made aware of the significance of red pandas’ conservation. Also, a proper policy and legal framework for their conservation should be introduced, he said.