Ten red pandas have been successfully equipped with GPS-satellite collars in the Panchthar-Ilam-Taplejung Corridor, a belt of forest that connects protected areas in Nepal and India.
Six females and four males were equipped with collars after three months of red panda collaring fieldwork which had taken place from September to December 2019 in Sandakpur Rural Municipality of Ilam district, eastern Nepal.
“This is a great milestone in red panda conservation,” said Man Bahadur Khadka, the director-general of the Department of Forests and Soil Conservation. “We assure the protection and conservation of this charismatic species whose survival is mainly threatened by anthropogenic factors.”
This is the first time the Department of Forests and Soil Conservation has led the wildlife collaring study, according to a press statement from the department.
The collar study, under the leadership of Department of Forest and Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation in collaboration with Red Panda Network, will not only provide critical baseline data on red panda ecology, distribution, and behaviour in the wild but will also apprise stakeholders with valuable insight into landscape-level conservation efforts required to manage biological corridors.
The red panda is listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and included in Appendix I of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).
Likewise, the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act, 1973 has categorised the red panda as a protected species of the country.
Nepal’s first five-year (2019-2023) red panda conservation action plan has facilitated the latest collaring research project.
“This is a proud moment for us to have the opportunity to fulfil one of the objectives of Nepal’s Red Panda Conservation Action Plan,” said Ang Phuri Sherpa, country director of Red Panda Network.
The red panda is also locally known as Paaru, Dolma, Chintapu, Mechhachha, Bhumo, Senehang, Ngima, Brian, Ninamma and Praladdevi. These names represent culture, landscape, language, and ethnicity of the region.
The name Praladdevi was given in tribute to late Pralad B. Yonzon, a renowned biologist and conservationist.
“This study aims to understand better how red pandas interact in human-dominated landscapes. The collars are programmed to record data every two hours, which will be transferred via a satellite system for one year,” said Damber Bista, team leader of the GPS collaring research project. “The data will help us get a better insight into their movement and space-use pattern, social behaviour, and their response to disturbances.”
According to researchers associated with the study, prior to this collaring, the GPS collars were tested on two captive red pandas at the Rotterdam Zoo in the Netherlands to evaluate their effectiveness and any possible disruption of the animal’s movement or behaviour.
The collar devices were found to be effective with no disruption. The training on safe capturing and handling of the animal in the field was provided by Janno Weerman, the Zoological Manager at the Rotterdam Zoo and Red Panda EAZA Ex-situ Program Coordinator.