Nepal is the home of thousands of incredible species of birds. Koshi Tappu, in particular, is a bird watchers paradise, where hundreds of different species of water birds have been recorded. Here, you will encounter more than 250 different species of amazing and beautiful birds, some of which are not found anywhere else in the world.
WHERE DO YOU CATEGORIZE AN ANIMAL WHICH IS CLASSIFIED AS A RELATIVE OF THE GIANT PANDA, BUT HAS ANATOMICAL FEATURES SIMILAR TO THE RACCOON IN THE HIERARCHICAL SYSTEM? IT SHARES THE GIANT PANDA’S RAINY, HIGH-ALTITUDE FOREST HABITAT BUT RESEMBLES A RACCOON IN SIZE AND APPEARANCE.
The red panda has stumped scientists. The problem of its classification is capable of giving any taxonomist very violent headaches. Where do you categorize an animal which is classified as a relative of the giant panda, but has anatomical features similar to the raccoon in the hierarchical system? It shares the giant panda’s rainy, high-altitude forest habitat but resembles a raccoon in size and appearance. The scientists came up with a simple solution – currently, red pandas are classified under their own unique family—the Ailuridae!
These reddish brown, long-tailed, raccoon like animals, about the size of a large cat, usually reach a body length of 50 – 64 cm at adulthood, with a big bushy tail that adds about 30 – 60 cm. It weighs approximately 3 – 6 kg. The red panda has soft, thick fur- rich reddish brown above and black underneath. The face is white, with a stripe of red-brown from each eye to the corners of the mouth; and the tail is faintly ringed. The feet have hairy soles, and the claws are semi-retractile. The pandas wrap their tails around themselves to keep away the cold in the chilly mountain heights.
The red panda is found in a mountainous band from western Nepal through northeastern India and Bhutan and into China, Laos and northern Myanmar. The species also lives throughout mountainous areas of southwestern China. Red pandas only live in temperate forests in the foothills of the Himalayas. They reside at altitudes generally between 1500 and 4800 meters where the temperature is generally cool, and there is little annual variation. A bamboo understory grows in these forests and provides the bulk of the red panda’s diet. However, these patches of bamboo are only found in narrow bands throughout the red panda’s range. Thus, although red pandas are distributed across thousands of miles of territory, they are restricted to these small, fragile areas.
The red panda’s diet mostly consists of bamboo, very unusual for a mammal. Their broad teeth and strong jaws allow them to chew bamboo’s tough leaves and stalks. They also have a small, bony projection on their wrists that helps them grip bamboo stalks. When the weather is warm enough, it sometimes supplements its diet with fruits. It has also been reported to occasionally eat berries, blossoms, fungi, seeds, acorns, eggs, young birds, small rodents, and insects. To cope with the lack of food during the winter months and meet their energy demands red pandas can spend as much as 13 hours a day foraging for food. They also have a very low metabolic rate and can slow their metabolism even further in cold temperatures. The thick fur that even covers the soles of their feet allows them to conserve body heat. With a diet that relies mainly on bamboo, that grows sparsely and sporadically, and deforestation for timber, fuel and agricultural land, their habitat is shrinking day by day.
The red panda lives high in the mountains among rocks and trees and climbs trees with agility. It seems to do most of its feeding on the ground. It uses trees not only for feeding but also to escape ground-based predators, and to sunbathe high above the canopy of leaves in winter. They are primarily crepuscular, as being active in the night and most active during the early morning with slightly decreased activity around midday. On average, they are awake for only 56% of the day.
It may live alone, in pairs, or in family groups. A female red panda makes a maternal den in a tree hollow, branch fork, tree root, bamboo thicket or a rock crevice, fashioned and lined with branches, leaves and moss. After a long gestation period of about 134 days, litters of one to four young ones are born, usually in the spring. Cubs are born covered in thick grey fur with their eyes and ears closed. The cubs will stay in the nest for about 90 days, remain close to their mother until the next mating season begins, and reach adulthood after 12 months.
In terms of their ranging patterns, red pandas behave much like larger carnivores. They tend to have overlapping home ranges in which the individuals rarely interact with each other. Red pandas mark their territories with urine, secretions from anal glands, and scents from glands on the pads of their feet. They have also been known to use communal latrine sites to stake out territory and share information with others. In addition, red pandas often communicate using body language and different noises.
Red pandas are an endangered species, with an alarmingly small and declining population. With a diet that relies mainly on bamboo, that grows sparsely and sporadically, and deforestation for timber, fuel and agricultural land, their habitat is shrinking day by day. Their limited food resource and slow rate of reproduction contribute to their attrition and cause a great deal of difficulty recovering from population declines. Then there is the illegal poaching and trading of its beautiful fur that drastically decreases its numbers. Its red fur is in high demand in China, where it is used to make hats and clothes. In Yunnan Province, hats made of red panda fur are still desired by newlyweds as a talisman for a happy marriage. It is already extinct in 4 of the 7 Chinese provinces in which it was previously found.
The exact size of Asia’s red panda population is currently unknown, but with their extinction looming ahead as an ominous and dismal possibility, zoos around the world have taken up the call to preserve the species. More than 80 zoos currently have red pandas, and almost all of them participate in a management program to ensure the survival of a viable zoo population. North America runs the Red Panda Species Survival Program (SSP) which keeps a record of all red pandas on the continent, determines which animals should be mated, and develops long-term research and management strategies for the species. Other management programs have been created in Japan, Europe, Australia, and China
Interesting Facts about the Red Panda
The Chinese name for red panda is hunho or firefox, due to their colour and similar size to a fox.
Like giant pandas, red pandas have an extra ‘thumb’ which is actually just an enlarged bone.
A red panda can consume up to 45 percent of its own body weight daily eating approximately 200,000 bamboo leaves in a day.
The origin of the name “panda” is the Nepalese word “Nigalya ponya”, which means “eater of bamboo”.
They are also known as “Chitwa” or “Wah” in native Nepali language.
The red panda was first discovered in 1821, 48 years before the giant pandas were found in 1869.
There are very few examples among mammalians that are endowed with such beautiful fur as that which adorns the body of the panda.
Explore Himalaya has reproduced this article with the kind permission of TravelTimes magazine (www.traveltimes-mag.com). This article was published in the May 2009 issue.
Pithauli , a village in Nawalparasi District in southern Nepal, is being frequented by a large number of tourists. The attraction is Jatayu Restaurant — not a diner but a feeding centre for vultures.This feeding centre for vultures in Asia is first of a kind in Asia. The restaurant was established in Namuna Community Forest about three years ago to preserve endangered species of vulture, especially the white-rumped and slender-billed vultures. As Nawalparasi contain seven of the nine species of vulture in the world, setting up the restaurant has made it easier for conservationists to monitor the birds and their activities.The vultures are fed uncontaminated cattle carcasses. An observation post has been built for visitors to watch the birds swoop down at mealtime.
Bird Watching in Nepal With more than 850 species of birds, Nepal is a veritable paradise for birdwatchers. A diverse topography and climate has resulted in a variety of habitats within the country, a home to over 8% of the total bird population. In the deep jungles of the Terai and the Kosi Tappu barrage, among the thick rhododendron and Oak forest of the middle hills and the windswept plateaus of the Himalayas you will always be greeted with a birdsong: the chirps, the cheeps, the twitters and the hoots. Grab your binoculars and head for the hills! In Kathmandu Valley The most popular bird watching spot is the Phulchoki hill, situated 20 km south- east of Kathmandu, with some 265 species recorded to date. Over here you can sight the babblers, warblers, tits, thrushes, minivets, woodpeckers, eagles and many migrant birds. Godavari, lying at the foot of Phulchoki hill, where the Royal Botanical Garden is situated, records over 100 species of birds including the lesser racket-tailed drongo, Tibetan siskin and the spotted forktail.
The wetlands and open fields inside the valley make up a diverse habitat for many species of birds. The banks of the Manohara river on the way to Bhaktapur, and the Bagmati river, which flows into the valley from Shivapuri hill and out through Chobhar Gorge, are good places for watching waders and waterfowls. Taudaha, a lake on the way to Dakshinkali,south of Kathmandu, also attracts flocks of migrant birds.
The Shivapuri Watershed and Wildlife Reserve situated 11km to the north of Kathmandu, is another very good location. Nagarjun Royal Forest situated 5 km from Kathmandu on the way to Kakani from Balaju is also renowned for its blue magpies, kalij pheasants, Bonelli’s eagles, great Himalayan barbets, Forktails, Redstarts and Kingfishers. Gokarna forest, 7 km to the northeast of Kathmandu, boasts of the speckled mountain thrush, orange-headed ground-thrush, brown wood owl and the white-bellied yuhina among other colorful varieties. Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve
The Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve is renowned for being one of the best locations for birding. The smallest (175 sq km) and easternmost reserve in Nepal, Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve lies north-east of the convergence of the Sapt Koshi and Trijuga Khola rivers. During monsoon (May to September) the flow of the river becomes torrential and covers most of the floodplain, while during the dry season, many flat, sandy islands are exposed. The habitat is a combination of scrub grassland and deciduous riverine forest, with over 280 species of birds recorded so far. See Swamp Francolins, White Ibis, Storks, Lesser Coucal, Striated Marsh Warbler, Black Bellied Tern, Imperial Eagle, Pied and Marsh Harrier, Common Quail, Bengal floricans (Eupodotis Bengalensis), and many other exotic and migratory waterfowl not found elsewhere in Nepal. . Chitwan National Park Chitwan is rich in wildlife. The Chitwan National Park is the ultimate destination for wildlife enthusiasts. With over 255 species of birds recorded, among them, many species of parakeets, the Blue-Throat thrush, Long-tailed Nightjar, Indian Peafowl, Great Barbet, red-billed blue magpie and Tickell’s red-breasted blue flycatcher, the park offers much for the serious birdwatchers. Bardia National park Bardia National park situated in the far West of Nepal is also a popular destination for bird watching. Covered by sal forest riverine and grass lands, a boat ride on the slow current of the Karnali River provides you with an opportunity to view the birds, including Ruddy Shelduck, darters, Brahminy kites, brown headed gulls, cormorants, oriental pied hornbills, , cinnaon bitterns, orioles and peacocks. The Annapurna Conservation Area The Annapurna Conservation Area supports a remarkable biodiversity, with 441 recorded species of birds, including the spiny babbler. The bird habitat ranges from the sub-tropical lowlands towards Pokhara in the south of ACA to dry sub-alpine conditions above the tree-line towards the North. Crimson Horned Pheasant, Blood Pheasant, Koklass Pheasant ,Cheer Pheasant ,Kalij Pheasant are some species of pheasants seen around the conservation area.
In Pokhara and Fewa Lakeside you get to see Ibisbills, Wallcreepers, Brown Dippers, Green Magpies, Lesser Raquet Tailed Drongos along walking tails in the sub tropical forest and aquatic species during a relaxing boating trip
The Kali Gandaki valley is also a major migration pathway in the autumn, when 40 species, including demoiselle cranes , can be seen around Jomsom and Tukuche. Migrating West about this time further South around Kaare and Dhampus are about 20 identified species of eagle and other birds of prey. The most commonly observed are: Bearded Vulture and the Golden eagle.