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WWF zooms in on Red Panda

The highly endangered species, found in the Himalayan region, is being treated as a top priority by the wildlife conservation organization, reports Satyen Mohapatra.

tech reviews Updated: Apr 17, 2007 23:04 IST

The WWF is determined to save the Red Panda from the brink of extinction. The highly endangered species, found in the Himalayan region, is being treated as a top priority by the wildlife conservation organisation.

As many as 30 species from all over the globe were currently in the priority list of WWF, said Associate Director (Areas India) Tariq Aziz. The organisation devotes extra resources on these species and brings them to the attention of the global community.

The Red Pandas, also called “Hunho” or “Firefox” in Chinese, were found only in the Himalayan region between 2,200 and 4,800 metres in Nepal, Bhutan, India and China.

A preeminent species of this region, Red Panda is the state animal of Sikkim and the mascot of the International Tea Festival in Darjeeling.

Aziz further explained that it was the health of the Red Panda which denoted the health of the forest and the entire ecosystem of the region. Conserving the species would automatically lead to the conservation of the ecosystem of the eastern Himalayan region which is a global biodiversity hotspot, he added.

However, there is hardly any baseline data available on the Red Panda, though it is understood that the number of Red Pandas was going to decline over the years primarily due to habitat destruction on account of deforestation and lumbering activities. The main diet of Red Pandas is bamboo leaves and shoots. The Nepalese call the pandas ‘Nigalya ponya” or eater of bamboos. Being great climbers, the pandas build their nests and live in tree hollows.

The major threat to the species came from poachers and fur traders who killed them for fur, besides those who wanted to keep the docile animals as pets.

WWF India has initiated a project on the Red Panda in Sikkim, for developing an indepth understanding of the species to help develop a long-term conservation plan.

“During the last one and a half years in Sikkim, there were only two sightings of the Red Panda,” he said.

While in India Red Pandas are protected under the Wildlife (Protection)Act 1972, internationally they are also protected and listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna.

"Our job," the WWF official says, "is to find out where does the Red Pandas live, what is their approximate number, what kind of fragmentation their habitat has suffered, and can the fragmented habitat be re-joined".

"We would like to create a GIS-based data set on Red Pandas that would help us do modelling of their habitat," Aziz added.