With its bushy tail, little-old-man eyebrows, and rust-colored coat, the red panda is difficult to resist. While in some corners of the Internet every day seems like Red Panda Day, September 19 is the official date to celebrate this charismatic creature.
Native to China, Myanmar (Burma), and other parts of Asia, red pandas are tree-dwelling, housecat-size mammals whose numbers have declined in recent years due to habitat loss.
Many of the red pandas seen cavorting on YouTube videos are young ones engaged in play, says PJ Jones, animal care manager at the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, Rhode Island, which is home to red pandas. "You will see some play behavior from older [red pandas], but not nearly as much as from the cubs."
As a whole, though, the red panda is "more of a lover than a fighter," she says. They mostly eat bamboo, but unlike the giant panda, red pandas will also consume eggs and the occasional small mammal.
"People have tried exhibiting them with birds or other small mammals [in zoos] and it doesn't always end well," Jones says. (Read about one red panda's great escape from the National Zoo.)
Red pandas have a wrist bone that sticks out like a thumb and helps them grip shoots of bamboo. It's something they have in common with giant pandas and it's why the two species were initially both classified as pandas on the family tree, Jones says.
Now, scientists have grouped giant pandas with bears and red pandas remain the sole member of the panda family.
No matter their official status, there's no denying the allure red pandas hold for many of us. So sit back and get ready for some cute overload.
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