The Other Panda
By: Mike Jerrard
We all have come to know and love the large black and white Giant panda which is honored in such ways as it being a national symbol of China, the logo for the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, and the leading star in films like Kung Fu Panda. There is however another animal which shares the Panda name and despite its name being Lesser Panda, it deserves just as much recognition and protection as its more famous counterpart.
From Left to Right: Red panda,, red panda eating bamboo
The Lesser Panda also goes by the name Red panda or Red bear cat, however its not really a panda, a bear, or a cat. In fact it is the only surviving genus in the family Ailuridae. Its position in where it belongs in the animal kingdom has always been up in the air as it resembles a raccoon but shares similarities with the Giant Panda as well such its love for Bamboo. To make it even more confusing, one of its extinct relatives of the family is also called the Giant Panda which shares no relations to today’s Giant panda. This is why animal scientific names are so important and describe a species in far more detail than the common names given to them.
So to sum things up a Red Panda is in its own family but is closely related to the raccoons while the Giant panda is the only surviving genus in the Ursidae family which makes up the bears of the world. Of course you then have subspecies of both Red and Giant pandas to make things more confusing but we won’t discuss that.
From Left to Right: Red panda, giant panda, raccoon, pair of red pandas
Sadly like the Giant panda, the Red panda is just as endangered in its wild habitat of the temperate forests in the Himalayas. Their range extends from Nepal eastwards through Bhutan, Myanmar, and China. There are tours that can give you a chance of seeing the pandas in the wild, but most are seen in captivity as they are spread out across the world in various zoos. They tend to cope fairly well in a zoo setting however have become known to be very good at escaping there enclosures. The Smithsonian National Zoo had one escape as did a zoo in Dresden, Germany. An escapee from Rotterdam, Netherlands was sadly found dead but its ghost or something looking similar was seen for some time after. Who knows, maybe you’ll be seeing Red pandas on the AMC’s Walking Dead in the near future.
From Left to Right: Red panda, Red panda looking to be next escapee
Whatever its taxonomic classification may be the fact that they are incredibly adorable will always remain true. However just like a cute baby, they are known to be noisy at times and actually give a crying like sound. It is this sound which lead naturalist Thomas Hardwicke to propose its name to be a Wha. Luckily a French zoologist named Frederic Cuvier was given naming rights after his publication of a paper describing and illustrating the species and chose a much classier name.
As a side note, Frederic Cuvier was the younger brother of Georges Cuvier the famous paleontologist who was one of the first to mention that it was reptiles that ruled the earth before mammals and also realized that elephant bones discovered in America were in fact that of extinct prehistoric beasts known as mastodons. He however didn’t get everything right as he did not believe there was any evidence that proved the theory of evolution. Still however his incredible achievements and contributions to paleontology have lead to his name being inscribed on the Eiffel Tower in Paris along with other notable French nationals.