The red panda is an endangered tree-dwelling mammal found in parts of Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and Darjeeling district in West Bengal. It is threatened by habitat destruction, hunting and illeggal pet trade. Photo from DST INSPIRE RED PANDA Project, ZSI. The red panda is an endangered tree-dwelling mammal found in parts of Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and Darjeeling district in West Bengal. Photo from DST INSPIRE RED PANDA Project, Zoological Survey of India.

Red panda related crimes imperil populations

Even as conservation efforts are underway, a recent report by TRAFFIC India brought red-panda related crimes into sharp focus. TRAFFIC is a non-governmental organisation working globally on trade in wild animals and plants.

It said that red panda-related crimes were found to be lowest in Bhutan while significant incidents have been recorded from Nepal. Similarly, though not reported prominently by media, these crimes (targeted/non-targeted poaching, trade of products mainly fur) do exist in India too, albeit at a fairly low level. Only a few incidences of live animal trade (for pets) and no incidences of web-based trade were encountered during the study.

During the study, 32 national/international experts were contacted, 54 markets in India and two markets in Nepal were surveyed and 1,900 persons were interviewed in 289 villages of three states in India. Along with this, CITES trade database records from 2010 to 2018 were analysed while 18 e-commerce portals were actively monitored for 45 days to document any incidence of sale of red panda products over these platforms.

Saket Badola, head of TRAFFIC India and the report’s author, said that there is both good news and bad news for red panda populations in India.

“While analysing the seizure database no major seizure of red panda products came to light, both in India and Bhutan. Even the surveys indicated that there is no targeted poaching of red panda in these two countries,” Badola said.

“Based on interactions with local communities, we found that there was no targeted poaching and people have moved away from this. The youth is not seeking the fur for any purpose. However, during visits to nearby villages, few skins were encountered. It was informed that these are the result of accidental trapping in traps laid out for other wild animals. So it can be concluded that though no targeted poaching for red pandas is being practiced some red pandas are losing their life in non-targeted poaching,” added Badola.

The study said that communities do not favour the use of products made from red panda but there are a few traditional caps and pelts that are still being kept as heirlooms and are inherited within the family and may enter the supply chain at any time. As per the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 of India all these articles should have been declared to the authorities. A special drive should be undertaken to register all these inherited articles, the study suggests.

In India, the red panda is protected under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, which means it is accorded the same protection as tigers. A recent study suggests that a special drive should be undertaken to register all red panda derived inherited articles that should be declared to the authorities. Photo from DST INSPIRE RED PANDA Project, Zoological Survey of India.
In India, the red panda is protected under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, which means it is accorded the same protection as tigers. A recent study suggests that a special drive should be undertaken to register all red panda derived inherited articles that should be declared to the authorities. Photo from DST INSPIRE RED PANDA Project, ZSI

The report indicates that poaching of red pandas is still prevalent in Nepal with reports from the previous four years indicating nearly 70 units of red panda hides, and also to a lesser extent in India. While no cases of poaching or trade could be gathered in Bhutan during the study period, surveys near the Indo-Bhutan border indicate that there might still be a demand for red panda pelts in Bhutan.

Based on the responses of the experts, the main reason attributed for poaching and trapping of red pandas in India and Nepal was for their fur (70 percent), while live trapping for the pet trade (20 percent), captive breeding (five percent), and traditional medicines (five percent), were the other reported reasons.

Evidence suggests that demand for red pandas from outside India still exists. For example, in Dibang Valley in Arunachal Pradesh, it was mentioned that in the last two to three years, in at least two instances, foreign tourists visiting the area had offered to buy a live red panda if captured from the wild, the study elucidates, stressing on the importance of community conservation reserves as probably the “single most important approach” to reducing poaching and trafficking and should be considered a high priority for funding support across the red panda’s range.

Indian scientists are building a reference DNA database for red panda populations to help officials trace seized red panda products to the region of origin and combat illegal wildlife trade. Photo from DST INSPIRE RED PANDA Project, Zoological Survey of India.
Indian scientists are building a reference DNA database for red panda populations to help officials trace seized red panda products to the region of origin and combat illegal wildlife trade. Photo from DST INSPIRE RED PANDA Project, ZSI.

“To protect red pandas fully, it is important that community-based conservation and protection measures are implemented, including mitigation of non-targeted trapping practices. Cross border co-operation and co-ordination is also necessary for the protection of wildlife that migrates beyond borders,” said Badola.

The report recommends threat assessment, population estimations, boosting community conservation initiatives, building on red panda crime database and creating DNA databases at regional levels for red panda protection.

While the major threats are habitat degradation, deforestation and the rapid change in the land use pattern from human activities, poaching is imperiling the animal in many parts of Arunachal Pradesh, said Thakur, disagreeing with the TRAFFIC India report, adding that the “facts are underestimated.”

“We recorded several incidences of red panda poaching in northeast India in the last two years of field surveys. The demand is for red panda pelt, mostly for local consumption,” Thakur added.

Banner image: The red panda is a tree-dwelling mammal and primarily feeds on bamboo leaves. Photo from DST INSPIRE RED PANDA Project, ZSI.

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