Conservation of Red Pandas

Geographical location:

Asia/Pacific > Southern Asia > India

Lesser panda (Ailurus fulgens). Endangered species. Distribution Bhutan, China, India, Laos, Nepal.
© WWF-Canon / Martin HARVEY

Summary

Scientific information on the status of the red panda in Sikkim is very scant. While large areas are shown as red panda distribution areas, the reality is that only small pockets are available for the species. Authentic information on where exactly these animals are ranging and how exactly these places are connected and or what threatens these linkages is vital for creating strategies for effective conservation interventions.

The Khangchendzonga landscape itself is a large area and the number of stakeholders is huge. Among them are government and non government agencies and influential individuals. These also include educational and research institutions that make key inputs into decision making. Bringing all of these together on a platform to make an alliance for conservation is expected to go a long way in achieving larger conservation goals.

It is clear that the entire landscape including the Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve (Sikkim, India) is facing various threats. But there is no scientifically documented information that actually identifies the threats as well as shows levels of damage each one of them is causing or the potential of the damage that is waiting to happen. While this kind of dataset will appraise us of the level of interventions that are needed, it will also help in generating opinion among decision makers.

Background

Though the red panda (Ailurus fulgens) is the state animal of Sikkim and reported to be found in six protected areas (PAs) within the state (Choudhury 2001), its status in the wild is thought to be steadily declining (Lachhungpa 1997). Choudhury (2001) also reports that a 1,000 times increase in tourists in Sikkim between 1980 and 1995 and their subsequent requirement for firewood has accelerated habitat loss. In addition to this, he mentioned that construction of roads, over-grazing, etc. have also had their toll on the red panda habitats in Sikkim. The ecology of this species has been studied by Pradhan et al. (1999) in Singhalila National Park, West Bengal, an area that is adjacent to the state of Sikkim and has contiguous patches to this state’s largest PA, i.e. the Kanchenjunga National Park. The state of Sikkim is also likely to hold about 20% of the potential red panda habitat in India (Choudhury 2001). Therefore, in order to propose a conservation action plan for the species, the foremost activity to be carried out is to estimate the current status and distribution of the red panda in Sikkim. This activity will identify the PAs and other areas of red panda habitat that need immediate attention.

Objectives

1. Understand the conservation status of the red panda in Sikkim.

2. Strategise for long-term conservation of the red panda.

3. Conduct feasibility for reintroductions of the red panda in order to create populations in identified sites.

Solution

It is known that the red panda inhabits sub-tropical and temperate forests (Choudhury 2001) wherein they are threatened from habitat loss and habitat fragmentation, competition from domestic livestock, reduction of habitat quality by removal of maternal den trees (Glatstone 1994). Hence, conservation needs for this species in Sikkim is to be determined and addressed.

The weaknesses of the red panda habitats within and outside PAs are to be quantified and specific strengthening measures are to be implemented. All these activities will require to build-up a partnership with different government authorities like the Forest Department, the Indian army and NGOs like the Mountain Institute, Resources Himalaya and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). A broad-based awareness programme will also be initiated at the middle of the first year to make the people of the state aware about the conservation issues for this species.

In due course of time, a tie up could be done with the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park, Darjeeling, which has successfully carried out an ex-situ conservation programme of red panda, by breeding this species in captivity and releasing them in the wild. Interestingly, one of the two individuals that were radio-collared and released in the Singhalila National Park, has mated in the wild and given birth to offspring.

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