The holidays are likely on your mind right now, but did you know that a major holiday was just celebrated this past weekend? Just after Halloween and before Thanksgiving falls International Red Panda Day, which the Oakland Zoo celebrated in style with the help of our good friends from the Red Panda Network.
What’s a red panda, you ask? These small, raccoon-like mammals live in the forests surrounding the Himalayas, in China, India and Nepal, and are also known as the “firefox”. They subsist almost entirely on bamboo, eating up to 200,000 bamboo leaves in one day! Besides being charismatic and biologically unique, the red panda can also lay claim to being the original panda. The word “panda” is derived from the Nepalese word “poonya”, which means “eater of bamboo” and refers to the red panda. When scientists discovered the larger, black and white, bamboo-eating animal in the mountains of China, they assumed the two animals to be related, and dubbed the now more famous one the Giant Panda. Now, however, we know that red pandas and giant pandas aren’t closely related at all. In fact, though red pandas share similarities with raccoons, weasels and bears, they have been classified in their own family, Ailuridae, biologically distinct and unique from other species.
The actual number of red pandas in the wild is unknown. Like many animals, they face threats from habitat loss and climate change which damages the fragile Himalayan ecosystem. Though their range is geographically large, in practice the pandas are restricted to small patches of forests which support the bamboo plants they so rely on. And yet, while their larger namesake has become a symbol for conservation worldwide, few people have even heard of a red panda, let alone know about the challenges they face. The Red Panda Network, which is dedicated to preserving the species through education, research and conservation in Nepal, decided to raise awareness by holding the 1st annual International Red Panda Day on November 13, with the help of zoos, schools and clubs across the country. When they asked if we’d be willing to join in to teach people about this amazing animal, we readily agreed!
And so, this past Saturday, November 13, we celebrated this special species. The Teen Wild Guides operated tables with red panda facts and activities. Visitors spent the day coloring red panda masks, making red panda origami, and having their faces painted. All activities were free, with donations accepted. When all was said and done, we raised $215 to be donated to the Red Panda Network, which they’ll use to further their excellent conservation work with local people in Nepal.
An event like Red Panda Day is a great chance to reflect on the little things we can all do to benefit conservation. Here at the zoo, our conservation programs run the gamut from fundraising to composting, but nothing is more important than education. Just by learning about a new animal or habitat, we have taken the first step to making a difference for them. As the great Senegalese conservationist Baba Dioum said; “In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, we will understand only what we are taught.” And so, to everyone who came out to the zoo on Red Panda day, colored a mask, and maybe dropped a dollar or two in our donation box, our sincere thanks for doing your part, and for helping us support a hardworking organization. Now we all know which panda truly reigns supreme!