How our red pandas use their ‘brakes’

Red panda at Flamingo Land Resort.
Red panda at Flamingo Land Resort.

Now is a great time of year to have a look at Flamingo Land’s red pandas. These animals are naturally most active at dawn and dusk – they are crepuscular, rather than truly nocturnal like owls or hedgehogs or diurnal like humans. This can mean that in the height of summer they are not the easiest animals to spot because by the time the zoo opens for the day they’ve settled down to sleep and they may not wake up again until nearly closing time! However, in the winter, when light levels are lower, they seem to be more active later into the morning and during the afternoon as the light fades. We have also recently carried out some tree felling in their enclosure, making the pandas more visible. There are still several trees left because red pandas spend most of their time up in the trees, even sleeping on high branches, but it is now definitely easier to see where they are.

Red pandas are naturally found living in the Himalayas, the same part of the world where giant pandas are found, and they eat mostly bamboo, just like giant pandas. Apart from that they are not closely related; in fact red pandas are not particularly closely related to any other animals.

As well as bamboo, red pandas will also eat roots, fruit, eggs and small lizards. Bamboo is a poor food in terms of nutrition, so to make up for this red pandas have a very slow metabolism and are only active for about 12 hours each day. They are excellent climbers and when descending a tree head first, they can rotate their ankles so that their back feet point back up the tree, allowing them to use their claws as brakes. They also have a modified wrist bone that acts like a sixth digit or thumb so that they can grasp things. Their name comes from the reddish-brown colour of their fur, which in their natural habitat provides superb camouflage against tree trunks covered in reddish-brown moss. As they live in cold places and don’t build dens or any other home, the coat is very thick to keep them warm through the winter. They even have fur growing on the soles of their feet. This means that even on cold days they are likely to be out and up in the trees at Flamingo Land.

At Flamingo Land we have just one male and one female. Both are young animals and we are hoping that in future they will breed here.