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Can You Keep a Red Panda as a Pet?

 
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. July 19, 2021
Can You Keep a Red Panda as a Pet?

For many, the cuteness of animals is what first interests us in the animal kingdom. From the time we are children, we have plush toys, cartoons and images on cereal boxes showing us adorable animals. The red panda is an animal which provides stiff competition for being the cutest. Their cherubic faces and beautifully patterned coat help to make them beloved the world over. When their cuteness helps us to engage with animal conservation efforts, it can be a really positive influence. However, it can also bring complications when considering companion animals.

At AnimalWised, we ask can you keep a red panda as a pet? We look at the factors helps us to answer this question, as well as whether keeping red pandas as pets is illegal.

You may also be interested in: Is the Giant Panda Still Endangered?

What is a red panda?

The red panda (Ailurus fulgens) is a mammal which has been difficult to place taxonomically. Being labelled a panda is partly because they once belong to the subfamily Ailuropodinae, the only other member of which is the giant panda. They do have some similarities in their features, but they are only distantly related to this type of mammal. At certain stages, they were thought to be a type of bear or even a type of raccoon.

Scientists currently believe the red panda is part of the superfamily Musteloidea, which includes weasels, raccoons and skunks. However, they make up their own family known as Ailuridae, of which they are the only extant species. Further confusion has arisen over some of its other common names. These include the red bear-cat or the red cat-bear. However, the red panda is neither a bear (Ursidae) nor a cat (Felidae).

Red pandas have a reddish brown coat from the top of their head to their tail. Underneath, they have dark brown fur. Their face has distinctive white markings on their snout and ears, and their tail has rings like a tabby cat. They are native to a large area which reaches from South China to Nepal, including the Himalayas. When they are at high altitudes, their thick coat helps protect them from the cold.

Stoats are another animal in the Musteloidea family. Take a look at our article on keeping stoats as pets to learn more about them.

What is the red panda's habitat?

Although their coat can help them survive low temperatures in the colder months, the red panda usually live sin temperate climates. They live at between 2,200 to 4,800 m above sea level. Temperatures are usually between 10-25 °C (50-77 °F).

The red panda's habitat requires trees since they are an arboreal animal. They use them to evade predators and stay safe when at rest, but they will forage on the ground. They are a solitary animal and will be very territorial. They mark with urine and anal gland secretion. If a rival red panda is in their territory, they can be quite aggressive.

Red pandas are either nocturnal or crepuscular, meaning they are most active at night. During the day, they will sleep in trees. Since they are sensitive to the heat, they need to keep away from the sun in the canopies of forests.

Can You Keep a Red Panda as a Pet? - What is the red panda's habitat?

What do re pandas eat?

Red pandas generally have a herbivorous diet. Another similarity to panda bears is the fact that a large part of their nutrition is derived from bamboo. However, they can vary their diet during different times of the year. They can supplement their diet of bamboo and grasses with insects, birds eggs and even small mammals. This would make them technically omnivorous.

Also like the panda bear, red pandas are quite low-energy animals. Due to the high-roughage diet, they have a relatively slow digestion. They will spend a large part of the day at rest to allow for digestion. Since their diet is also low-calorie, they have to eat large amounts to get the energy they need to survive.

They also have enlarged papillae on the underside of their tongue. This allows them to receive scents from the air. This is not usually for hunting, but to evade being hunted.

Are red pandas endangered?

Conservation is one of the most important factors when considering red pandas as pets. Unfortunately, red pandas are indeed endangered. The reasons for this are difficult to fully understand, but there are two main factors in their decreased population numbers:

  • Deforestation: due to forests being cut down to use the trees for timber, the red panda's natural habitat is being decimated. Not only can they not find food, but they become more exposed to predators. Even the areas which can be used are not always hospitable due to human influence.
  • Poaching: the red panda's beautiful coat is highly-prized by illegal fur trappers. Their bushy tails are used to make hats and are associated good luck in some parts of Chinese culture. Live individuals are also poached and given as pets, especially amount elites in certain countries.

There are believed to be around 10,000 individual red pandas left in the wild. Conservation efforts have been make to keep them safe, but these vary greatly according to country.

Can you keep a red panda as a pet?

Since there are examples of people having kept red pandas in captivity (outside of zoos and conservation schemes), the question can be rephrased as should you keep a red panda as a pet? The answer is categorically no. By looking at the characteristics and traits of the red panda, we can see why keeping a red panda as a pet is a bad idea:

  • Red pandas are not domesticated animals. Even those which have become used to human company are not suitable for domestic environments.
  • Since red pandas are nocturnal/crepuscular animals, they are not as active during the day. For most animal guardians, this means we won't be able to spend much time with them. If we try to force interaction during the day, we can upset their circadian rhythm and cause them undue stress.
  • Their solitary nature means the red panda will not want to be with a human family. Their territoriality can even make them aggressive in some cases. Since they are not used to human contact, this can be dangerous if children are around.
  • On a practical level, their marking with urine and anal glands means they will cause your home to smell.
  • Red pandas require trees and high areas in which to rest. They also prefer to live in areas above sea level. Making a suitable enclosure will be very expensive and will require a very large property.

Another animal people want to keep at home is the monkey. Take a look at our article on keeping monkeys as pets to learn more.

Can You Keep a Red Panda as a Pet? - Can you keep a red panda as a pet?

Is it illegal to keep a red panda as a pet?

In their native lands, the trafficking of red pandas is illegal. One cannot trap them in the wild which is why any removal of them from the wild is considered poaching. There may be some cases where a red panda is transported for relocation to a zoo. In these cases, this is certified by a government authority and the animal will usually be a rescue animal which cannot be returned to the wild.

For all these reasons, keeping a red panda as a pet is illegal. If you ever hear of a red panda being sold as a pet, the person selling this animal will have received them illegally and should be reported to the authorities.

Not only is it illegal to keep a red panda as a pet, it is immoral. Red pandas, as is the same with otters and other cute animals people want to keep in the home, should be left to enjoy the wild. If we think red pandas are cute and want to help them, the best thing we can do is contribute to their conservation efforts.

If you want to read similar articles to Can You Keep a Red Panda as a Pet?, we recommend you visit our Endangered animals category.

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