Across the street from our much beloved giant pandas we have another panda I’d like to introduce: our little red panda, Julong. Red pandas are endemic to the Himalayas, Southern China, India, Nepal, and Burma. They are mostly solitary but sometimes live in small family groups. They have beautiful soft, reddish brown fur, white faces with red tear markings, and a distinct long, bushy tail with six alternating red and yellow rings. Along with habitat fragmentation, the red panda’s tail has led to its current endangered status. Although they are protected in all countries in which they live, in southwest China they are hunted specifically for their tails, thought to be good-luck charms for newlywed couples.
Julong is a western red panda, and although the name may appear that they are related to giant pandas, the two subspecies of red pandas, western and the larger Styan’s red panda, are actually in their own family, Ailuridae, and are distantly related to raccoons, weasels, and skunks.
Red pandas are mostly herbivorous, with a diet consisting of about two thirds bamboo. They also eat some berries, fruit, roots, grasses, and occasionally eggs and small rodents. At the San Diego Zoo, we feed Julong fresh bamboo daily, along with specially formulated biscuits and, on occasion, fresh apple pieces or his favorite, grapes.
If you visit Julong, you’ll notice he spends most of his time on a bamboo shelf in the upper level of his exhibit. Red pandas live mainly in the trees and are quite adept at climbing. Since they are crepuscular, active mostly at dawn and dusk, their long body, short legs, and bushy tails help balance them while they snooze the day away and search for food at night. Living the twilight years of his life (red pandas can live to be 15), Julong does a bit more snoozing than cruising nowadays, although he always perks up when he hears his keepers come by for a visit. Who knows, he may just get another grape for his efforts!
So next time you visit our Giant Panda Research Station, stroll across the street and say hello to Julong. Don’t worry: even if he sleeps right through your visit, there’s still nothing cuter than our little red panda.
Nerissa Foland is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.
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