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Red Panda in Brief

The Red Panda, also called the Firefox or Lesser Panda (Latin name: Ailurus fulgens, "shining cat"), is a mostly herbivorous mammal, specialized as a bamboo feeder. It is slightly larger than a domestic cat (40 - 60 cm long, 3 - 6 kg weight). The Red Panda is endemic to the Himalayas in Bhutan, southern China, Pakistan, India, Laos, Nepal, and Burma. There is an estimated population of fewer than 2,500 mature individuals. Their population continues to decline due to habitat fragmentation.

The Western name "Red Panda" derives from the Himalayan language: panda is an anglicisation of poonya, which means "eater of bamboo". The Red Panda is also known as the Wah because of its distinctive cry. This name was given to it by Thomas Hardwicke, when he introduced it to Europeans in 1821. It is called a Cat Bear because it was thought to be related to a small bear and washes itself like a cat by licking its entire body. Other names include Bear Cat, Bright Panda, Cat Bear, Common Panda, Fire Fox, Red Fox, Fox Bear, Himalayan Raccoon, Lesser Panda, Cokoloaca Pigara, Gambawarella, Nigalya Ponya, Panda Chico, Panda Eclatant, Panda Rojo, Petit Panda, Poonya, Crimson Ngo, Red Cat, Sankam, Small Panda, Thokya, Wah, Wokdonka, Woker and Ye.

Recent molecular-systematic DNA research places the Red Panda into its own independent family Ailuridae. Ailuridae are in turn part of a trichotomy within the broad superfamily Musteloidea (Flynn et al., 2001) that also includes the Mephitidae (skunks) and the Procyonidae (raccoons) + Mustelidae (weasels). Unlike the Giant Panda, it is not a bear (Ursidae).

There are two extant subspecies of Red Panda: the Western Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens fulgens) that lives in the western part of its range, and the somewhat larger Styan's Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens styani) that lives in the east-northeastern part of its range. The Western Red Panda has lighter pelage, especially in the face, while the Styan's Red Panda has more dramatic facial markings. The effective population size in the Sichuan population is larger and more stable than that in the Yunnan population, implying a southward expansion from Sichuan to Yunnan.

The taxonomic classification of both the Red Panda and Giant Panda has been under debate for many decades, as both species share characteristics of both bears and raccoons. However, they are only very distantly related by remote common ancestry from the Early Tertiary Period. Its common ancestor can be traced back to tens of millions of years ago with a wide distribution across Eurasia. Fossils of the Red Panda have been unearthed from China in the east to Britain (Parailurus anglicus) in the west (Hu, 1990,Ro), and most recently a handful of fossils (Pristinailurus bristoli, Miocene,considered to be a new genus and species of the Red Panda)[8] have also been discovered in North America.