Red Pandas belong to a unique family called Ailuridae and are not closely related to the Giant Pandas of China. Although this point was hotly debated in scientific circles well into the 20th century. Apart from the similar cuteness factor, they have an opposable thumb (which is really a lengthened wrist bone in both species due to convergent evolution) like the Giant Panda and look similar in terms of facial characteristics. That is where the similarities stop though.
Red Pandas (Ailurus fulgens or “cat that shines brightly”), are actually closer to raccoons and are known to feed occasionally on insects, small animals and eggs. They are very small in comparison; only about the size of a house cat.
They are found in the Himalayan foothills in India, Nepal and China. These animals are mostly solitary and only come together when mating. The mating call is very interesting and sounds like a twitter. The mother takes care of the young for about 90 days and then the youngster is weaned.
The wild populations are considered as endangered by the IUCN Redlist . Their primary enemies are: degradation of habitat, poaching and climate change, not quite in that order.
However, due to the cuteness factor, they are kept as pets and are also very popular in zoos all over the world. In fact, one escaped from the National Zoo in 2013 and had all the intelligence agencies in a tizzy. Videos of its capture went viral with the entire public behind the escaped creature, appropriately named “Rusty”.
If you are using the Firefox browser, the name is inspired by the Red Panda. Who would have thunk that!