Ringtail Panda (Ailurus fulgens): Red Cat-Bears of Mountainous Southwest Asia

by DerdriuMarriner

Red pandas always get second looks. They have cat-sized bodies, cub-like heads, raccoon-like ringtails, and squirrel-like ankles. Everybody loves meeting photogenic, red cat-bears!

People in Asia historically apply poonya to a bamboo-eating animal.
• The loan-word becomes panda in English.
• It calls up endearing images of two bear-like animals, so alike in favorite foods and photogenic charms.

Giant (Ailuropoda melanoneuca) and ringtail (Ailurus fulgens) pandas indeed consume bamboo as their main meal of choice.
• Both delight visitors of national and zoological parks with never-a-bad-hair-day photo opportunities.

But because of color and size, they never get mistaken for one another.
The giant panda is a black-and-white bear-sized member of the bear family Ursidae.
The ringtail panda is a red cat-sized member of the Ailuridae family within the Musteloidea superfamily of:
• Badgers, martens, otters, weasels;
• Cacomistles, coatis, kinkajous, olinguitos, olingos, raccoons, ringtails;
• Skunks.

 

Archaeological evidence attests to the ancient proliferation of ringtail panda-related relatives (Magerictis imperialensis, Parailurus anglicus, Parailurus hungaricus, Pristinailurus bristoli) about 3,000,000 – 4,000,000 years ago in:

  • Eurasia, from China east- and north-ward to Britain, Italy, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, and Spain;
  • North America.

But scientists nowadays attribute to ringtail pandas south Asian geographical distributions restricted to super-mountainous regions within:

  • Bhutan;
  • China;
  • India;
  • Laos;
  • Myanmar;
  • Nepal.

They conjecture populations surviving in southwest Tibet. They credit northeast India with:

  • Disjunct populations in Sikkim and on the Meghalaya Plateau;
  • Possible presences in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.

They describe ringtail pandas as mountain fauna of:

  • Himalayan mountain system ranges and subranges in Bhutan, India, and Nepal;
  • Southwest China’s provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan.

 

A disjunct population of ringtail pandas inhabits northeastern India's Meghalaya Plateau, a paradise of high-altitude rainforests and waterfalls.

Nohkalikai Falls, East Khasi Hills District, Meghalaya state, northeastern India
Nohkalikai Falls, East Khasi Hills District, Meghalaya state, northeastern India

 

Ringtail pandas access specific habitats within mountain environments. They appreciate altitudes well below the elevations beyond which trees do not grow and well within the heights at which forests offer healthy canopies.  They therefore choose densely forested niches 5,905.51 – 15,748.03 feet (1,800 – 4,800 meters) above sea level. Within that range, they particularly enjoy the canopy connectivity at 9,186.35 – 11,811.02 feet (2,800 – 3,600 meters) above sea level. But whatever plateau or slope which they call home, they expect access to:

  • Bamboo understories (especially Fang’s cane [Bashania faberi]);
  • Conifer forests;
  • Mixed broad-leaved deciduous shrubs and trees (especially raspberry [Rubus spp], rhododendrons, rowan [Sorbus]);
  • Old woody plants.

They favor year-round cool-to-moderate, moisture-laden temperatures between 50 and 77°F (10 and 25°C).

 

Native sylvan habitats camouflage ringtail pandas.

Cincinnati Zoo
Cincinnati Zoo

 

Red and white moss- and lichen-covered, mountain- and snow-dominated sylvan habitats blend seamlessly with ringtail panda coloring. Long, soft fur camouflages their upper-parts with red-brown and their limbs and under-parts with black. Twelve alternatingly red- and yellow-brown rings decorate each ringtail panda’s long, non-prehensile, plush tail. Each ringtail panda’s rounded head contrasts black, forward-facing, rounded eyes and a black, moist nose with:

  • Forward-facing, pointed, red-backed, white-fringed ears;
  • Red-brown tear-tracks;
  • White cheeks, eyebrows, lips, muzzle, and whiskers;
  • White dental formulas of 6 incisors, 2 canines, 6 premolars, and 4 molars equally distributed between the left and right upper jaws and 6 incisors, 2 canines, 8 premolars, and 4 molars evenly divided between the left and right lower jaws.

 

Endangered snow leopards (Panthera uncia), predators of ringtail pandas

snow leopard
snow leopard

 

Behavior assists coloring in the survival of ringtail pandas. For example, ringtail pandas attempt to minimize confrontations with predatory snow leopards (Panthera uncia) and yellow-throated martens (Martes flavigula). They therefore avoid the ground except during annual January-to-March breeding seasons and sunset-to-sunrise-centered foraging for:

  • Bamboo roots and shoots;
  • Fresh acorns, bark, berries, fruits, lichens, mushrooms;
  • Seasonal protein (eggs, insects, small birds and mammals).

They choose small-group life cycles in which adults:

  • Nap, rest or sleep with the tail serving as blanket, chair or pillow;
  • Occupy individual, lofty tree hollows or sheltered rock crevices;
  • Raise newborns in leaf-and-stick-built nests within high tree or protected rock hollows;
  • Take winter sunbaths with head and belly astride a branch and limbs dangling.

 

ringtail panda: sleeping

Tiergarten Schönbrunn (literally: Schönbrunn Zoo), aka Vienna Zoo,  Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna, northeast Austria
Tiergarten Schönbrunn (literally: Schönbrunn Zoo), aka Vienna Zoo, Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna, northeast Austria

 

After one gestation of 90 – 160 days, female ringtail pandas deliver 1 - 4 buff-grey, fully-furred cubs between 4:00 p.m. and 9:00 a.m. each or every other May/June to July/August. They immediately groom newborns to know their scents. Cubs hover around 3.88 – 4.59 ounces (110 – 130 grams) at birth and 7.05 ounces (200 grams) at 7 days. They manage to:

  • Open their ears and eyes at age 17 – 18 days;
  • Realize adult coloring at age 3  months;
  • Take solid food at age 4 – 4-1/2 months;
  • Unite with peers in group-living arrangements at weaning ages of 6 – 8 months;
  • Welcome sexual maturity at age 18 – 20 months.

They survive 8 years in the wild and 15+ in captivity.

 

ringtail panda with offspring

Dortmund Zoo
Dortmund Zoo

 

Females are one-fifth each male’s size. Cubs attain maturity with:

  • Head-and-body lengths of 20 – 26 inches (50.8 – 66.04 centimeters);
  • Tail lengths of 12 – 24 inches (30.48 – 60.96 centimeters);
  • Weights of 3.3 – 14 pounds (1.36 – 6.35 kilograms).

They go from just high-pitched whistling to:

  • Barking and grumbling distress;
  • Bleating and twittering breedability;
  • Quacking danger;
  • Snorting defensive hisses while brandishing each paw’s 5 pinkish, razor-shape, semi-retractile claws and standing upright;
  • Squeaking and whistling “conversation.”

They additionally master:

  • Consuming paw-dipped water and paw-held food;
  • Descending surfaces squirrel-like with ankles rotated;
  • Grooming facial sections with each paw’s longest third digit, under-sides with saliva, and upper-sides by log-rubbing;
  • Waddling with shorter forelimbs angled inward, tail straightened horizontally, and white-furred soles plantigrade (flat-pawed).

 

By rotating their back paws, ringtail pandas are able to descend head first.

Cincinnati Zoo
Cincinnati Zoo

Conclusion: Officially described as world's most beautiful animal in 1825

 

Ringtail pandas amaze viewers before and since official descriptions as the world’s most beautiful animal, Ailurus (“cat”) fulgens (“fire-colored”), by Montbéliard-born French zoologist Georges-Frédéric Cuvier (June 28, 1773 – July 24, 1838) in 1825. The nominate western-based A.f. fulgens and F.W. Styan’s China- and Myanmar-based A.f. styani epitomize common names as:

  • Bright/red/shining panda;
  • Firefox;
  • Red bear-cat/cat-bear.

Within part-individualized, part-overlapping territorial ranges of 0.36 – 2 feces-/scent-/urine-marked square miles (0.94 – 5.18 square kilometers), both endure:

  • Agro-industrialization;
  • Globally-warmed climate change;
  • Habitat fragmentation;
  • Inbreeding;
  • Pelt-poaching.

Both find as:

  • Protection: National/zoological park breeding programs;
  • Sustainability: Scientific/technological breakthroughs;
  • Weapons: Each paw’s opposable false-thumbed sixth digit and every scent gland’s malodor.

Scientific commitment and viewer support just may win the red ring-tailed panda’s “uphill” battle.

 

ringtail panda standing on two feet

Ailurus fulgens
Ailurus fulgens

Taronga Zoo's new red panda cubs: Sydney Harbor, New South Wales, southeastern coastal Australia

Uploaded to YouTube on April 28, 2007 by emjayven ~ URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06CbMa0kDr8

Acknowledgment

 

My special thanks to:

  • Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet;
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.

 

lithography by Dutch zoological illustrator Joseph Smit (July 18, 1836 – November 4, 1929)
Proceedings of the Scientific Meetings of the Zoological Society of London (November 11, 1869): Plate XLI, opp. p. 507
Proceedings of the Scientific Meetings of the Zoological Society of London (November 11, 1869): Plate XLI, opp. p. 507

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Leo Mei and Xiao Mei: Two female Ailurus fulgens fulgens

Smithsonian National Zoological Park
"Comfort is relative."
"Comfort is relative."
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Ailurus fulgens eating bamboo shoot, Wolong Nature Reserve, southwestern China: photo by Tom and Pat Leeson

10x14 Photo Puzzle with 252 pieces. Packed in black cardboard box, 5 5/8 x 7 5/8 x 1 1/5. Puzzle image 5x7 affixed to box top.
Photo Jigsaw Puzzle: Ailurus fulgens - Ardea Wildlife Pets

Ailurus fulgens lying on moss, Wolong Nature Reserve, southwestern China: photo by Tom and Pat Leeson

10x14 Photo Puzzle with 252 pieces. Packed in black cardboard box, 5 5/8 x 7 5/8 x 1 1/5. Puzzle image 5x7 affixed to box top.
Photo Jigsaw Puzzle: Ailurus fulgens - Ardea Wildlife Pets

Ailurus fulgens in tree, Hessen, west-central Germany: photo by Duncan Usher

10x14 Photo Puzzle with 252 pieces. Packed in black cardboard box of dimensions 5 5/8 x 7 5/8 x 1 1/5. Puzzle image 5x7 affixed to box top.
Photo Jigsaw Puzzle: Ailurus fulgens - Ardea Wildlife Pets

Ailurus fulgens peering round tree branch: photo by Tom and Pat Leeson

10x14 Photo Puzzle with 252 pieces. Packed in black cardboard box, 5 5/8 x 7 5/8 x 1 1/5. Puzzle image 5x7 affixed to box top.
Photo Jigsaw Puzzle: Ailurus fulgens - Ardea Wildlife Pets

Three-month Old Red Pandas, Ailurus Fulgens Fulgens: photo by Joel Sartore

Three-month Old Red Pandas, Ailurus Fulgens Fulgens

Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 10/18/2014, DerdriuMarriner
 
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DerdriuMarriner on 02/25/2015

MBC, Me, too, I love cats and pandas, so I also see red pandas as representing a visually attractive blend of both.

MBC on 02/23/2015

These little ones are so darling! I love cats and I love pandas so this one is everything I like!

DerdriuMarriner on 03/23/2014

Mira, Me, too, I agree: these ringtail pandas are so very very cute!
I'm glad that you appreciate the photos, including that of the ringtail panda's predator, the snow leopard, which is a beautiful creature.
I'm happy to acquaint you with these ringtails.

Mira on 03/23/2014

These ringtail pandas are so cute! I love the photos you included, including that of a snow leopard. Nature can be amazing. I've never known about these pandas :-)

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