We headed out on the trail of the elusive red panda in the Yalli Reserve Forest, East Sikkim, late last November. Having encountered pellets of the red panda a few times, we were hopeful of sighting the elusive animal. After hiking for hours, we rested for a bit. As some of us were settling down for a short break, I heard our field assistant cry out excitedly, “Baini, tyo rukh ma tah Pandu raicha!” (Look a panda on the tree). It was perched on a branch of a Sorbus cuspidate (Tenga) tree. Its flaming red fur resembled a Buddhist monk’s robes, with specks of white on its innocent face!
We watched the red panda for as long as we could, but with night setting in, we had to head back to our camp. Six months of tireless searching proved fruitful, and the memory of my encounter with the monk of the jungle will remain with me forever.
Red Pandas are difficult to spot and getting to sight one is nothing short of a blessing. When sightings are not possible, we fall back on the pellets or poop they leave behind that provide us valuable information. We have been analyzing red panda scats to understand what they eat. While we generally know that bamboo comprises a large portion of their diet, red pandas also feed on other plant species. The pellets help us enhance our understanding of the overall habitat usage of the species and its distribution. This knowledge enables informed decision making for forest managers and policymakers to ensure the conservation of the species under threat from habitat fragmentation and degradation.
The anecdote is by Shalini Thapa, working on Khangchendzonga Landscape at WWF India.
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