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People and red pandas: the red pandas' role in economy and culture

Authors:
  • Red Panda Network
  • Wildlife Filming & Photography

Abstract

Despite their striking appearance, red pandas seem to have had only a limited impact on the culture, traditions or economy of the Himalayan region. They do not seem to constitute a substantial part of the culture or folklore of their range states. References to red pandas in folktales or rituals are sparse, which is understandable, given that their habitat is relatively inaccessible and they are generally crepuscular or nocturnal in their habits. However, surprisingly, red pandas seem to be having an impact on modern culture, particularly outside their range states. Today, their name and image play a significant role in art, culture and merchandising around the world. Red pandas are particularly popular on the social media, and this development could be both a blessing and a curse for their conservation.
CHAPTER
2
People and Red Pandas: The Red
Panda's Role in Economy and Culture
Angela R. Glatston1 and Axel Gebauer2
1Royal Rotterdam Zoological and Botanical Gardens, Rotterdam, The
Netherlands2Görlitz Zoo, Görlitz, Germany
OUTLINE
The Red Panda in Culture and Tradition of the Range States 12
The Red Panda in Today's Range States 15
Red Pandas in Western Culture 18
Red Pandas in the Movies 18
Red Pandas in Other Art Forms 21
Conclusion 23
The red panda is an exceptionally attractive species. Cuvier, who published the
first account of the red panda in 1825, described it as: “Most handsome mammal in
existence” [1] and Sowerby [2], another early reporter who saw it in the Calcutta Zoo,
referred to it as “a delightful little creature”. Yet, despite its striking appearance, the
red panda seems to have had only limited impact on the culture, traditions or economy
of the Himalayan region. In fact, the 1994 IUCN SSC Action Plan for Procyonids and
Ailurids [3] concluded that, although the red panda is acknowledged as the state
animal of Sikkim and its image was also used to promote the first International Tea
Festival in Darjeeling, it does not form part of the culture or folklore of any of its
range states. We now know that this statement is not completely true, nevertheless,
reference to the red panda in folktales or rituals remains sparse. To an outsider it is
difficult to understand why such a notably beautiful creature has managed to make so
little impression on the traditions of its homelands. On the other hand, considering
that the red panda's habitat is relatively inaccessible and that these animals are
essentially nocturnal or crepuscular in their habits, this lack of impact becomes easier
to appreciate. However, as mentioned above, further study has indicated that the
Action Plan was not entirely correct in its conclusions; the red panda does indeed
have a place in the culture of its range states, albeit a limited one. What perhaps is
more surprising is the effect that the red panda seems to be having on modern culture,
particularly outside of its range states. Apparently, mass travel and the Internet have at
last brought the red panda to the attention of the general public and today its image
and its name do indeed play a significant role in culture, art and merchandising
around the world, which is surprising given that most people claim that they are
unaware of the red panda's existence.
THE RED PANDA IN CULTURE AND TRADITION OF THE RANGE
STATES
The red panda is clearly familiar to the local peoples of the Himalayas. Hodgson
[4], the first Westerner to study the red panda in the wild, provides us with numerous
local names for the red panda (see Box 2.1) and other authors [5–7] have since
supplied us with several more originating from other parts of the red panda's range.
The species was also clearly well known in its range states long before Hardwicke
presented his paper to the Linnean Society [8]; Roberts reports that a red panda was
depicted in a Chinese pen and ink scroll illustrating a hunting scene [9]. This scroll
dates back to the 13th century Chou dynasty. Nevertheless, this apparent familiarity
has not led to a key role for the red panda in the culture and traditions of the peoples
of the Himalayas. For example, Majupuria [10], in his book on the sacred and
symbolic animals of Nepal, discusses many Himalayan species, all of which have
symbolism in Nepalese traditional culture, but the red panda is not among them.
However, Michael Oppitz [11], a Swiss anthropologist, reports that the ramma or
shamans of the Northern Magar tribe in the Dhaulagiri Region of Western Nepal use
the skin and fur of the red panda in their ritual dress. These people consider the red
panda to be a protective animal which guards the wearer against the attacks of
aggressive spirits; for this reason, its body is hung on the shaman's back when he
undergoes a dangerous ritual in the course of his healing seances. The adjacent Bhuji
Khola Kami people apparently have similar beliefs (Oppitz, personal
communication).
The belief that red pandas and/or their fur are good luck talismans can be found in
other parts of the red panda's range, for example, red panda tails were formerly used
as good luck charms by some of the tribal people of Arunachal Pradesh (Dwaipayan
Banerjee, personal communication) and it is considered an omen of good luck for the
Yi people of Yunnan if a bridegroom wears a red panda fur hat during his wedding
ceremony. Other examples of the red panda as a harbinger of good fortune can be
found in the beliefs of some of the tribal peoples of Bhutan, convictions which persist
right up until the present day in some parts of the country. For example, the people
living in the Gasa and upper Paro regions of western Bhutan maintain that it is a good
omen if you see a panda when you are travelling on a business trip; it guarantees that
the trip will be successful. Similarly, the people of the Bumthang and Sengore regions
of central Bhutan consider red pandas to be the reincarnation of Buddhist monks,
apparently because their fur is a similar colour to that of the monks' robes. As a result
of this, these people will not harm red pandas (Sangay Dorij, personal
communication). Unfortunately, these convictions do not occur throughout the
country; some villagers in the lower areas of Jigme Dorji National Park are of the
opinion that if the red panda, or Yaem Dongkar”, howls at night it is an omen that
somebody from their community will die. However, red pandas cannot really be said
to howl, so clearly these people are confusing the red panda with another species,
probably the jackal or the Indian red fox but, nevertheless, their conviction means
that, if they see a red panda during the day time, they will try to kill it or chase it
away.
The Action Plan for Procyonids and Ailurids [3] also reported that red pandas
have never played a significant role in the trade or economy of the range states.
Again, it is surprising that such a beautifully coloured, thick, warm fur has never had
any commercial value in the fur trade. On more detailed examination, it is clear that
the early reports on this topic contradict each other. Some reports indeed indicate that
red panda fur was considered of such poor quality that only the tail had any value and
that as a duster [12]. However, other sources would seem to disagree; some authors do
report that red panda skins were sold in local markets [3,13]. Indeed, some even
indicate that a substantial trade in red panda fur once existed; Roy Chapman Andrews
[14] made the following report in Camps and Trails in China in 1916–1917:
... in Ta-li Fu (Dali) and Hsia-kuan (Xiaguan) are important fur markets and we spent
some time investigating the shops. One important find was the panda (Aelurus
fulgens). The panda is an aberrant member of the raccoon family but looks rather like
a fox; in fact the Chinese call it the “fire fox” because of its beautiful, red fur. Pandas
were supposed to be exceedingly rare and we could hardly believe it possible when
we saw dozens of coats made from their skins hanging in the fur shops
and
Li-chiang (Lijiang) is a fur market of considerable importance for the Tibetans bring
down vast quantities of skins for sale and trade. Lambs, goats, foxes, cats, civets,
pandas, and flying squirrels hang in the shops and there are dozens of fur dressers
who do really excellent tanning.
Red panda fur coats are no longer seen, however, the red panda fur hats have
remained in use, particularly in China. In the past, red panda fur hats were fairly
common (see Figure 21.6) throughout much of its range, they were worn both in
Bhutan (Sangay Dorij, personal communication) and in the Singalila region of the
Indian- Nepalese border and, in China, they formed part of the traditional uniform of
Naxi or Muli soldiers of Szechuan. There are two photographs dating from 1924–25
taken by Joseph Rock during his travels in China that show these soldiers in their
traditional uniform and red panda fur hat [15]. Indeed, it is in the Yunnan region of
China where people wearing red panda fur hats can still be seen today. There are
several references and images on the Internet of tribal peoples wearing red panda skin
hats. Two of these show a man and a woman belonging to a Tibetan minority group
from the Yunnan Province. The photograph was taken in the main square of the old
town of Lijiang as recently as the spring of 2006. The photographer (Peter Oxford,
personal communication) who posted these images from 2006 said it was still
common to see the people of various tribes, particularly those belonging to the Yi
tribe from the Jade Dragon Mountain area north of Lijiang, with red panda skin hats.
Indeed, a man wearing such a hat came into view during a recent BBC television
documentary series about the Himalayas. This particular scene was also shot in
Lijiang.
Today, the sale of red panda pelts still continues illegally. The Action Plan for
Procyonids and Ailurids has a photograph of a woman selling a red panda skin in a
market. More recently, a report in the USA Today On Deadline blog read as follows:
According to the Beijing News, Sun Shiqun, 60, told police she paid $5000 for the 3-
foot-long pelt. Police said tests confirmed that the skin came from a panda.
The Associated Press reported Sun tried to “pass off the pelt of a red panda, a
smaller animal, as a giant panda” [16].
Other incidents that have come to the attention of the authors are the confiscation,
in 2005, of red panda furs from a Nepalese tradesman in the Gola Pass in the
Kanchenjunga Conservation Area, Nepal (D. Chapagain to R. Melisch of TRAFFIC,
personal communication, September 2006). Recently, an employee of Flora and
Fauna International reported seeing red panda carcasses in the homes of villagers in
Eastern Myanmar. Apparently, these villagers regularly hunt red pandas and one of
these hunters allowed the FFI representative to accompany him while he caught a red
panda with his hands (Frank Momberg, personal communication).
Although red panda fur does have some uses, the same is not true of its meat.
Hodgson specifically stated that red panda meat is not eaten and, until recently, there
were very few reports of red panda meat being eaten apart from some anecdotal
reports of its consumption in Arunachal Pradesh. Unfortunately, this situation has
changed in recent months with reports now emerging from China of red panda meat
being served in restaurants. A visitor to Zhongshan City in the Pearl River Delta near
Hong Kong, who wishes to remain anonymous, reported seeing red pandas housed in
tiny cages at the back of restaurants, waiting to be butchered. It is to be hoped for the
future of this rare species, that this new trend will be very short lived.
In addition to these uses for dead red pandas, living specimens also seem to have
had a limited role as gifts and/or pets. Hodgson [4], the author of the earliest reports
on the red panda, saw the potential of red pandas as pets and suggested that, due to
their gentle disposition and lack of smell, they would make good “pets for ladies”.
This recommendation was never taken up, however, the tribal peoples of Arunachal
Pradesh do traditionally keep red pandas as pets (Forest Officer, personal
communication) while the Northern Magar people of Western Nepal also use them as
gifts (Oppitz, personal communication). Gee [17] in his book on Indian wildlife
reports that red pandas were the favourite pets of the former Indian prime minister
Jawaharlal Nehru. Indeed, some footage of Nehru and his pet red pandas can be seen
in the documentary film, Cherub of the Mist [18]. Even today the studbook keeper
still receives sporadic reports of live red pandas being offered for sale, presumably as
pets, in the markets of China. The habit of keeping red pandas as household pets may
have spread to other countries in recent times; there are two or three videos on
YouTube that show red pandas in Japanese homes. The animals in question seem to
be treated like spoiled pets. It is possible that the subjects of these videos could be zoo
animals that are being hand-reared in the home of a zookeeper, nevertheless, to the
casual viewer they appear to be charming pets.
Red pandas are not just presented as individual gifts, they have also been used as
state gifts on occasion even though they are somewhat less prestigious than their giant
namesake in this context. The international studbook records show that, in 1984, a
pair of red pandas was presented as a state gift to Spain by the government of Nepal.
Around the same period, a Chinese delegation visiting Australia donated red pandas to
both the Sydney and Melbourne zoos.
THE RED PANDA IN TODAY'S RANGE STATES
Today, the use of the red panda's image is becoming more prevalent within its
range states than was formerly the case. As mentioned earlier, the red panda is
currently the state animal of Sikkim where its face appears on the coat of arms of the
Sikkim Forest Department (Figure 2.1). Its picture was also used in the
advertisements around the 1991 International Tea Festival. Since that time it has also
leant its name to a local black tea, which is apparently particularly popular with
tourists (Figure 2.2). The red panda's likeness also adorns the label of Red Panda beer,
a beverage which is brewed by a local brewery in Bumthang, Bhutan (Figure 2.3).
When the owner of the brewery was asked why he had named his beer after the red
panda he replied that while many beers use animal names which evoke power, this
was not the image that he sought for his brew. His felt his beer looked beautiful in the
glass, had a soft rather than an astringent taste and was intended to savour rather than
to inebriate. Therefore, he named it after an animal which, in his words, “is a special
living thing and a symbol for beauty, fellowship and perhaps also a little wisdom
(intelligence)”.
The red panda's image also appears on postage stamps and coins in its range
states. Bhutan, India (Figure 2.4) and China have all produced red panda stamps while
Nepal has struck a 50 rupee coin depicting the species. It is interesting to note that
several countries outside of the red panda's natural distribution have also depicted it
on their stamps, for example, Mongolia, New Zealand and the Czech Republic, in
addition, a special series of commemorative red panda stamps has also been produced
in the USA. Indeed, it is outside of the range states where the red panda's name and
image seem to have caught the public imagination turning this little-known species
into a cultural icon.
RED PANDAS IN WESTERN CULTURE
The soft and cute-looking red panda is clearly an animal whose form lends itself
well to the production of plush toys; an assortment of cuddly red panda toys is
available around the world, although not the extensive selection that is available for
its giant namesake. In addition, the red panda's attractive image is used to
merchandise T-shirts, postcards, posters, coasters, embroidery patterns,
commemorative coins and many other items (Figure 2.5) as well as in promotional
context (Figure 2.6), while its name is applied in many contexts varying from popular
music groups to computer games and books to trading companies etc. However, it is
on the Internet where the red panda's name and likeness seem to have had the greatest
impact.
Red Pandas in the Movies
As unlikely as it may seem, red panda characters have played significant roles in
four full-length movies. The most important of these are two culturally significant
anime (Japanese animation) films: The Tale of the White Serpent and The Jungle Book
Shonen Mowgli. The former of these was particularly noteworthy as it was the first
colour anime, feature film. It was released in 1958 and was honoured at the Venice
Children's Film Festival the following year. It is essentially an adaptation of the Song
dynasty folktale “Madame White Snake” which tells the story of Xu-Xian, a young
boy, who owns a pet snake which magically transforms into a beautiful princess. The
princess and boy fall in love only to be separated by a local monk. The story ends
happily with the princess giving up her magical powers and remaining in human form
to prove that her love for Xu-Xian is genuine. In the film, Xu-Xian has two pets,
Panda (a giant panda) and Mimi (a red panda), both of whom help Xu-Xian in his
quest to find the princess. When this film was later released in the USA the name was
changed to Panda and the Magic Serpent and the red panda character was
transformed into a domestic cat.
The second anime film, the Jungle Book Shonen Mowgli or Janguru Bukku
Shōnen Mōguri, is an adaptation of the original Jungle Book story. It was broadcast in
the early 1990s by a national television company in India where it became a popular
series. It was even translated into Arabic and became a hit with Arab viewers as well.
There was of course no red panda character in Kipling's original Jungle Book,
however, the Shonen Mowgli film introduced viewers to Kichi, a red panda who is
befriended by Mowgli, after humans have killed her parents, and joins him in many of
his adventures (Figure 2.7).
Red panda characters have also had major roles in two western animation films;
the Bamboo Bears and, more recently, Kung-fu Panda. The first of these was a 1990s
European series which told the story of a group of animal eco-warriors: Slo-Lee, a
giant panda, Bamboo-Lee, a red panda and Dah-Lin a female bamboo rat, who save
the world from various ecological disasters. This television series was released in the
early 1990s and has apparently recently been launched again in DVD form by
Allumination Filmworks. Finally, 2008 saw the launch of the major Dreamworks
production, Kung Fu Panda, a mainstream movie, in which the characters are voiced
by well-known Hollywood screen actors. The red panda character, Master Shifu, is a
kung fu guru who has to train Po, the giant panda, so he can fulfil the role of Dragon
warrior and rid the Valley of Peace of the evil snow leopard Tai Lung. Many people
do not seem to be initially aware that Master Shifu, voiced over by actor Dustin
Hofman, is indeed a red panda and this has given rise to various Internet discussions
on the subject which in turn is raising awareness of the red panda with both movie-
goers and Internet users worldwide.
There is one further animated film depicting a red panda that deserves a mention
and that is Barbie the Island Princess produced by the toy company Mattel. In this
film, the Barbie central character has several animal friends sharing her adventures
including Sagi, the red panda. Accompanying this film is the Island (or Jungle)
Princess line of Barbie doll toys, each of which has its own red panda pet included in
the packaging. A second spin-off is a children's game based around this storyline
where the Barbie doll character is shipwrecked on a desert island and reared by a red
panda. There are undoubtedly more movies and videos to be found featuring red
panda characters but the preceding list includes the major offerings to date.
In addition to these commercial films, red pandas, both real and cartoon, are
depicted in a considerable number of YouTube videos; more than 3000 titles come up
in response to typing red panda into the search window. Some of these are clips from
the movies discussed previously, others are about acrobats or musicians who have
named themselves after the red panda but, by far the majority of these are the
offerings of ordinary people who are showing their appreciation for red pandas. The
sheer number of these videos attests to the appeal of the red panda to people far and
wide. Some show zoo visits in which the red panda is central, while others show
particularly endearing behaviours such as mother pandas with their cubs, play
behaviour or “kissing” (red pandas grooming each other's mouth). Red pandas
standing on their hind legs and “waving” or young red pandas clumsily moving
through their enclosures are particularly popular. Other contributions are simply series
of red panda photographs put to evocative music and yet others show red pandas
interacting with people, for example, zoo staff catching escaped red pandas; people
feeding red pandas by hand or sitting with a panda on their lap. There are even films
depicting the antics of red pandas in the home, for example, the very popular “Panda
Attack”.
Red Pandas in Other Art Forms
The image of the red panda is not confined to videos. There are numerous
photographs of red pandas on the Internet available both to view and to purchase.
Flickr, the Internet photograph sharing site, has a huge selection of red panda pictures.
These range from the classic nature shot to more artistic representations and to the
downright cute. The red panda is also a popular subject for artists and images abound
varying from traditional pen and ink drawings to watercolours and oil paintings. In
addition, there are also a number of artists who have used the red panda as the basis of
a more imaginative fantasy genre of art depicting red pandas as warriors, princesses,
magicians or monks (Figure 2.8). Finally, there are people who use red panda avatars
in various Internet communities, blogs and games. In fact, recently, a specific red
panda game has been produced, Bipo Mystery of the Red Panda, which follows the
adventures of Bipo the red panda trying to find his grandfather.
It is not only the red panda's cute appearance that is popular; its name is also
evocative. There are plays and books which have no relationship with the animal but
which use its name in their title. For example, there is a Red Panda who is the masked
hero of the Decoder Ring theatre company's popular podcast, The Red Panda
Adventures. This lighthearted series follows the adventures of the Red Panda,
“Canada's greatest superhero”, and the Flying Squirrel, his trusty sidekick, as they
protect the citizens of Toronto from villains ranging from gangsters to the
supernatural forces of darkness. There is absolutely nothing about this hero that
remotely resembles his animal namesake but the name is catchy. The red panda name
also appears in the title of the eighth volume of the American comic book series, Of
Queen & Country. Published in 2007, it is called Operation Red Panda. The series
itself follows the adventures of Tara Chace, an operative of the Special Operations
Section of SIS, known as the Minders. Again there is nothing about the story of
Operation Red Panda that is remotely connected with the species in question, it is just
making use of the evocative panda name. On the other hand, Andrea Siegal's novel,
Like the Red Panda, may not be directly related to the animal itself but, as one
reviewer says, “it is a novel which artfully evokes the despair, even the hopelessness,
of an endearing character”. It is perhaps in the hopelessness and charm of the main
character that we may find a real link between the title of the book and the red panda
species.
The use of the red panda's name extends far beyond the world of films, art, novels
and radio plays. Searching Google for websites using the term red panda yields a
plethora of personal websites and blogs either dedicated to or using the name of this
relatively unknown species. There are red panda companies and entertainers including
a record production company, a trading company, a popular music band, a troop of
Chinese acrobats, a jewellery producer, a chain of Chinese restaurants, a games
company and a publishing house to name but a few. However, undoubtedly the best
known and most widespread use of one of the red panda's names is that by Mozilla
who have named their popular web browser, Firefox. Most Firefox users are probably
unaware that the Firefox is a red panda and, it is true that the logo does not help this,
as it seems to represent a fox rather than a panda. Nevertheless, Mozilla
acknowledges that the red panda is the namesake of their browser and have sponsored
a number of red panda projects as a result of this link. Interestingly, a new, real-time,
discovery engine add-on has recently appeared for use with Firefox, and its name is
Red Panda.
CONCLUSION
When a species has a high cultural value it adds an extra dimension to our
motivation to preserve it. Likewise, if it has a high economic value our urge to exploit
it to extinction may be mitigated by the necessity of leaving an important resource
available to our descendants. These are both considerations which are taken into
account in the preparation of IUCN species Action Plans. According to the IUCN
Action Plan for Procyonids and Ailurids, the red panda confers no particular cultural
or economic benefits to the people of its range states so the cultural dimension cannot
be said to add an extra impetus to its conservation. In this chapter, we have
demonstrated that this lack of cultural and economic impact is not entirely true and
that the red panda does indeed have a role, albeit a limited
one, in the traditional practices of the local peoples. With a few exceptions, it
generally seems that, in these cultures, the red panda is associated with protection and
good luck. At the same time, in economic terms, its fur and meat remain of limited
use and so at present its economic value luckily remains negligible.
The red panda may only have a limited role in the traditions of the range states but
it does seem to have gained a considerable, and increasing, cultural role in the western
world, particularly in the virtual world of the Internet. It is unclear how such a
comparatively unknown species has gained such a foothold in our lives without our
being aware of it. Undoubtedly, television nature documentaries and the advent of the
Internet have brought the image of this little-known, attractive animal into our homes
and made more of us aware of its beauty and endearing character while, at the same
time, not increasing our awareness of the actual animal species. As a result, a whole
section of the general public has taken the red panda to its collective heart.
At the beginning of this chapter, the question was raised why such a striking
animal as the red panda appears so rarely in the local culture and traditions of its
range states. Here, at the end of the chapter, we have a second, more vexing question
to answer: why have the red panda's name and likeness now become so popular in the
western, or at least, the virtual world? Perhaps it is not the actual answers to either of
these questions that are really important but rather the fact that the beauty and charm
of this little-known species is gradually winning the hearts and minds of people
around the world and that this admiration may provide an opportunity to raise more
support for its conservation in the long term.
UPDATE
The contents of this chapter were compiled in 2010 and, since that time, the social
media have evolved significantly. Facebook and YouTube were comparatively new
then whereas Instagram, Pinterest and TikTok were either just, or not even, launched.
These social media are where the red panda’s name and image are very popular.
However, before discussing these, a few words needs to be said about developments
in the more conventional media of films, videos, comics and video games. At the time
of the publication of the first edition of this book, Kung Fu Panda had only recently
been released. Since that time, this multi-billion-dollar franchise has gone on to
spawn more Kung Fu Panda films as well as two television series: Kung Fu Panda;
Legends of Awesomeness and later, Paws of Destiny in 2018. All of these productions
have included Master Shifu, the red panda kung fu master, as one of their principle
characters. There have also been other films and series featuring red panda like
characters, a prime example is Avatar: the last Airbender, another multimedia
franchise, which features Pabu, the fire ferret, a character clearly based on the red
panda or fire fox. However, there is one franchise that features a red panda as the
main character, Aggretsuku, an animation series based on a Japanese musical,
comedy, anime, that was launched worldwide on Netflix in 2018. It tells the story of
Retsuko, a 25-year-old female red panda who releases her job frustrations by singing
death metal in a karaoke bar.
As mentioned above, the social media have advanced since the first edition of
this book was published. Red panda images and videos are featured extensively on all
and the social media. There are also a number of people/clubs/businesses that use
“Red Panda” as part of their company name or online identity or include a red panda
image in their logo. In addition, there are also many discussion groups on the topic of
red pandas, ranging from zookeepers, scientists, conservationists, bloggers, and fans.
Many of these have thousands of followers. The representation of red pandas on
YouTube has exploded from the 3000 videos found in 2010. Newer offerings include
recordings of the animals themselves, vlogs of people discussing red pandas and their
conservation, animations, educational presentations, instructions on how to draw red
pandas or make red panda masks, people singing red panda songs, the examples are
endless. Happily, films of people with red panda pets seem to have either disappeared
or have become more difficult to locate. In their place we see recordings of red panda
encounters in zoos where zoo visitors can be seen feeding, touching and stroking red
pandas.
In the first edition of this chapter we suggested that the red panda’s popularity
in mainline and social media might be key to their conservation in the wild. The
reasoning being as this cute animal became better known and more appreciated by the
public, demands for its protection would increase. More recently, it has been
suggested that the converse might be true, that these cute red panda images might
make the species more appealing to the pet trade and so drive up the incidence of
trafficking (19). To date there does not seem to be any evidence to support this claim,
despite the confiscation of six live red panda on the boarder between China and Laos
in 2019. The information from markets in south-east Asia does not indicate a trade
exists for red panda pets (Chapter 28). However, an online trade in pet red pandas in
mainland China was reported in the Red List Data evaluation (20). This market is said
to be supplied by captive bred individuals; however, this claim is clearly open to
dispute given that red pandas are not that easy to breed successfully. The red pandas
confiscated in Laos appeared to be headed out of China, so clearly were not destined
for the Chinese pet trade, although their actual destination is unknown.
In recent years Nepal has reported an increase in the confiscation of illegal red
panda products, these are frequently in the form of pelts although occasionally living
animals are found. It is uncertain what is driving the growth in demand, but it has
been suggested that it could actually be the actions of the investigators researching the
trade (21). Given the uncertainty about the role of social media in driving the pet
trade, we should all be wary of the kind red panda pictures and videos we post online.
Images that show red pandas being fed or fondled by people could be easily
misinterpreted, unless those people are clearly wearing a zookeeper’s uniform.
Portrayals of seemingly tame and friendly red pandas could give the impression that
they would make good pets. Having said this, depictions of attractive, playful and
charming pandas undoubtedly win hearts and minds and promote conservation. In
conclusion, we all need to realize that exploiting the power of social media is a
double-edged sword that needs to be approached with forethought and discretion.
References
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[2] A. Sowerby, C. De, The pandas or cat-bear, China J. 17 (6) (1932) 296–299.
[3] A.R. Glatston, The Red Panda, Olingos, Coatis, Raccoons and their Relatives.
Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland, 1994,
(compiler).
[4] B.H. Hodgson, On the cat-toed subplantigrades of the sub-Himalayas, J.
Asiatic Soc. Bengal 16 (1847) 1113–1129.
[5] C. Catton, Pandas, Christopher Helm Ltd., Bromley, Kent, UK, 1990.
[6] G.S., Gurung, Reconciling biodiversity conservation priorities with livelihood
needs in kangchenjunga conservation area, Nepal, Dissertation Universität Zürich,
(2006) 203 pp.
[7] R. Lydekker, The Game Animals of India, Burma, Malaya and Tibet, Rowland
Ward, London, UK, 1924.
[8] M.G. Hardwicke, Description of a new genus of the class mammalia, from the
Himalaya chasin of hills between Nepaul and the snowy mountains, Trans.
Linnean Soc. London XV (1827) 161–165.
[9] M. Roberts, The fire cat, ZooGoer March/April (1992) 13–18.
[10] T.C. Majupuria, Sacred and Symbolic Animals of Nepal, Sahayogi Press,
Kathmandu, Nepal, 1977.
[11] M. Oppitz, Schamanen im Blinden Land. Film, 2nd edition on DVD from
2008, Völkerkundemuseum der Universität, Zürich, Switzerland, 1980.
[12] R. Mell, Beiträge zur Fauna sinica. I. Die Vertebraten südchinas; Feldlisten
und Feldnoten der Säuger, Vögel, Reptilien, Batrachier, Arch. Naturgesch. 88 (A,
10) (1922) 1–134.
[13] D. MacKlintock, Red Pandas, a Natural History, Charles Schreiber's Sons,
New York, USA, 1988.
[14] R.C. Andrews, Y.B. Andrews, Camps and Trails in China, 1916–1917: A
Narrative of Exploration, Adventure and Sport in Little Known China, Appleton,
New York, USA, 1918.
[15] J., Rock, National Geographic Magazine. Photographs are available from the
Havard Image Library (http:// via.harvard.edu:748) but the images are not easy to
find. The images in question can be found at: http://
drjosephrock.blogspot.com/2005_02_27_drjosephrock_archive.html and the
2005-02-13_drjosephrock_archive, 1925.
[16] Unfortunately Mike Carney's post is no longer available on the Internet,
however, the incident was referred to in the Shanghai Daily Newspaper, March
08, 2007.
[17] E.P. Gee, The Wild Life of India, Collins, London, UK, 1964.
[18] N. Bedi, R. Bedi, Cherub of the Mist. Movie, Bedi Films/Visuals, India, 2006.
[19] A. Roth. Don’t be fooled by social media - wild animals make terrible pets.
2019. Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2019/01/cute-
wild-animals-make-terrible-pets/
[20] A. Glatston, F. Wei, Than Zaw & A. Sherpa, (2015): Ailurus fulgens (errata
version published in 2017). In: The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015:
e.T714A110023718. Gland, Switzerland, and Cambridge, UK: International Union
for Conservation of Nature. Available at https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/
714/110023718#threats
[21] Damber Bista, Greg S. Baxter & Peter John Murray (2020) What is driving the
increased demand for red panda pelts?, Human Dimensions of
Wildlife, 25:4, 324-338, DOI: 10.1080/10871209.2020.1728788
Red Panda. DOI: 10.1016/B978-1-4377-7813-7.00002-1
ã 2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
BOX 2.1
WHAT'S IN A NAME; VARIOUS LOCAL NAMES FOR
THE RED PANDA
The red panda is known by a variety of names in English of
which the red panda or the lesser panda are the most familiar.
However, a number of other names have been used in the
literature such as: (red) bear-cat, cat bear, cloud bear, bright
panda, common panda, fire cat, fire fox, red cat, brilliant cat,
fox bear, Himalayan raccoon. The following local names have
also been reported:
Area/Dialect
Names used
Limbu
Walsar, Jho, Kye,
Wáh, Oá, Yé,
Nigála pónya
Shotia
Wahe
Lepcha
Sa Nums,
Sankam, Saknam,
Thóng-wah, Thó-
kyé
Bhotias
Wakdonka,
Woker, Oakdnka
U'któnka
Sikkim
Workar
Burma
Kyaung-wun
Kachin
Ru
China
Chu-chieh-liang,
Xia xong mao
FIGURE 2.1 Gate into Sikkim showing the coat of arms of the Forest Department.
FIGURE 2.2 Red panda tea.
FIGURE 2.3 Red panda beer label.
FIGURE 2.4 Indian postage stamp depicting a red panda.
FIGURE 2.6 Red panda promoting recycling. (Reprinted courtesy of Call2recycle)
FIGURE 2.5 Commemorative coin from Görlitz Zoo.
FIGURE 2.7 Board in the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoo showing Kichi.
FIGURE 2.8 Martin Hsu's image of the red panda as a Buddhist monk. (Reprinted
courtesy of Martin Hsu)
Bhutan
Achhu Dongkar
(Dzongkha)
Central Nepal
Hobrey
... For example, the red panda's image is used in the logo of Mozilla Firefox. In this context, limited information about its presence in culture, the economy, and its traditional use is available from its range countries (Glatston & Gebauer, 2011). This has raised the question of what role the human dimensions of environmental management plays in red panda conservation. ...
... Specifically, the number of cases of seized red panda pelts is increasing in Nepal (DNPWC & DFSC, 2018;RPN, 2018). In the past, the use of red panda fur for hats was regarded as the major source of demand coming from China, Bhutan, and the Singhalila range of the Nepal-India border in eastern Nepal (Glatston & Gebauer, 2011). However, such hats have not been commonly used in recent years (Xu & Guan, 2018). ...
... This aspect of human behavior has always been at the core of most of the conservation issues associated with red pandas. Few studies, however, have examined this topic (Glatston & Gebauer, 2011;Sharma, Belant, & Shaner, 2017). ...
Article
Full-text available
Recent seizures of red panda pelts suggest an increasing illegal trade. Our study documents the socio-cultural perspectives affecting red panda conservation in Nepal in an attempt to determine what might be driving this increased trade. To do this, we interviewed local people; reviewed published and unpublished works, websites, and newspapers; and consulted experts. The majority of people living in red panda habitat seem familiar with this species, but it rarely has any medicinal, cultural, or religious significance. Currently, what is driving the demand for pelts is a mystery and cannot be explained by inherent negative perceptions about the animal’s value to society or positive perceptions about its economic value within Nepal. Nonetheless, we suggest that insufficient knowledge about red panda-related crime, miscommunication during awareness-building campaigns, investigators’ influence indicating a demand for pelts with a high price, and poverty-induced, easy money-making motives could be possible drivers for increasing the supply of pelts.
... Much has been published on the ecology and habitat characterization of red panda throughout its range (Bista et al. 2017;Dendup et al. 2017;Thapa, Hu, and Wei 2018;Pradhan, Saha, and Khan 2001). However, only some limited studies have been conducted to document local people's knowledge and perception towards conservation of red panda within its range (Sharma, Belant, and Shaner 2019;Glatston and Gebauer 2011;Yonzon and Hunter Jr 1991). Previous work has demonstrated that conservation policy rooted in traditional knowledge and local culture can contribute positively to conservation outcomes (Luo, Liu, and Zhang 2009;Rinzin et al. 2009;O'Neill et al. 2017), and ethno-ecological knowledge of wildlife management is acknowledged as a vital tool for achieving biodiversity goals in protected areas (Verschuuren and Brown 2018;Bauman and Smyth 2007). ...
Preprint
Full-text available
Bhutan has an extensive protected area network and people living inside are integral partners with the conservation landscape. Despite this, little is known on local people's traditional knowledge, cultural beliefs, and perceptions on wildlife. We investigated drivers of local knowledge and cultural significance of the red panda Ailurus fulgens through semi-structured questionnaire surveys (N= 664 participants) on local residents in Jigme Dorji and Phrumsengla National Parks. A conditional inference tree analysis explained that knowledge of the red panda and encounters with the species varied by demography, occupation and locality. Although majority of respondents were not knowledgeable of the species, residents living within the elevational range of red pandas exhibited greater knowledge. Civil servants, farmers, foresters, park staff, and teachers also had significantly greater knowledge of red pandas than monks, road workers and students. Informally educated older (≥41 years) respondents placed higher cultural significance on the red panda relative to much younger respondents. Collection of non-timber forest products, forest fires, timber and firewood harvesting, climate change, livestock grazing, and kills by domestic dogs were listed as some of the most prevailing threats to the red panda in Bhutan. Recognizing and incorporating the intrinsic value of wildlife within the protected area-people framework, and utilizing traditional cultural perceptions of threatened species like the red panda, can be a valuable tool in strengthening public support for species conservation. This study further advocates an urgent need for educational programs to promote ecological and cultural values of the red panda in schools and the wider public.
Article
The red panda Ailurus fulgens is categorized as Endangered on the IUCN Red List and is threatened by anthropogenic pressures such as livestock grazing. We surveyed people living in or near protected areas and people living away from protected areas in Nepal, to understand human attitudes towards red panda conservation. Given Nepal's participatory approach to managing protected areas, we hypothesized that local people living in or near protected areas would have more positive attitudes towards red panda conservation than those in non-protected areas. Ninety percent of the 142 respondents had positive attitudes, with people living in or near protected areas expressing less positive attitudes than those in non-protected areas. Despite this difference between protected and non-protected areas, people were generally positive towards red panda conservation. However, positive attitudes did not necessarily translate to sustainable resource-use behaviour. We found there was a high prevalence of both livestock grazing and livestock disease in red panda habitat. We suggest that alternative farming practices (e.g. stall-feeding of livestock) and awareness programmes (e.g. education on the conservation status and legal protection of red pandas, and livestock–wildlife disease transmission) could be important tools to improve conservation attitudes and protect red pandas in Nepal.
Article
Full-text available
Recent seizures of red panda pelts suggest an increasing illegal trade. Our study documents the socio-cultural perspectives affecting red panda conservation in Nepal in an attempt to determine what might be driving this increased trade. To do this, we interviewed local people; reviewed published and unpublished works, websites, and newspapers; and consulted experts. The majority of people living in red panda habitat seem familiar with this species, but it rarely has any medicinal, cultural, or religious significance. Currently, what is driving the demand for pelts is a mystery and cannot be explained by inherent negative perceptions about the animal’s value to society or positive perceptions about its economic value within Nepal. Nonetheless, we suggest that insufficient knowledge about red panda-related crime, miscommunication during awareness-building campaigns, investigators’ influence indicating a demand for pelts with a high price, and poverty-induced, easy money-making motives could be possible drivers for increasing the supply of pelts.
Article
Full-text available
Um in Naturschutzgebieten die Lebensunterhalts- und Schutzinteressen miteinander in Einklang zu bringen, wurden seit den 1980-er Jahren weltweit partizipative Methoden eingeführt. Die Herausforderung besteht darin, aus dem Gelernten effiziente Strategien zum Einsatz dieser Methoden zu finden. Ziel dieser Fallstudie ist es, anhand qualitativer und quantitativer Forschungsmethoden die Erfolge und Hindernisse des Kangchenjunga Conservation Area Project (KCAP) in der Vermittlung von Naturschutzinteressen und den Bedürfnissen der lokalen Bevölkerung zu untersuchen. Die Ergebnisse zeigen sowohl eine Verbesserung des Waldzustandes als auch der Einstellung der Bevölkerung gegenüber dem Wachstum der Wildtierpopulationen. Aus den Resultaten wird auch ersichtlich, dass die unterschiedlichen Prioritäten der Akteure durch bevölkerungsorientierte Naturschutzprojekte gleichsam integriert werden können. Durch langfristige Interventionen werden lokale Entwicklungsaspekte in die Naturschutzstrategien eingebaut und über lokale Institutionen transparent implementiert. Faktoren wie politische Instabilität oder wirtschaftliche Entwicklungstendenzen beeinflussen den Naturschutz und den lokalen Lebensunterhalt oft mehr als eigentliche Projektinterventionen. Um sozial und ökologisch nachhaltigen und verträglichen Naturschutz zu erreichen, ist es jedoch unerlässlich, lokale Bedürfnisse zur Sicherung der Lebensgrundlage zu berücksichtigen.
Article
During the 15-min period, or thereabouts, between the first observation of the fire and its fatal eruption into the ticket hall, the fire at King's Cross Underground Station was observed by many witnesses. Naturally, their descriptions differed appreciably in points of detail, but, overall, the led to a reasonably consistent picture of the fire's development. This picture provided a vital frame of reference against which scientific description of possible sequences of fire development could be tested, particularly with respect to the last 1 or 2 min prior to fire spread into the ticket hall.This paper presents the frame of reference provided by eyewitnesses accounts and the correlation with the outcome of the scientific investigation.
Schamanen im Blinden Land Film
  • Oppitz
The pandas or cat-bear
  • A Sowerby
  • C De
A. Sowerby, C. De, The pandas or cat-bear, China J. 17 (6) (1932) 296-299.
International Union for Conservation of Nature
  • A Glatston
  • F Wei
  • T Zaw
  • A Sherpa
edu:748) but the images are not easy to find. The images in question can be
  • J Rock
  • Geographic Magazine
J., Rock, National Geographic Magazine. Photographs are available from the Havard Image Library (http:// via.harvard.edu:748) but the images are not easy to find. The images in question can be found at: http:// drjosephrock.blogspot.com/2005_02_27_drjosephrock_archive.html and the 2005-02-13_drjosephrock_archive, 1925.