Human activity is helping to drive red pandas close to extinction, says a new study.
Published in the journal Landscape Ecology, the new research found that infrastructure projects, like new roads, and human settlements, are impacting the habitat of red pandas, as well as restricting their movements. The population is already fragile, with only 10,000 left in the wild.
To assess the impact of humans, researchers from the University of Queensland, the University of Southern Queensland, and the Red Panda Network tracked 10 red pandas for 12 months in eastern Nepal.
According to lead author Damber Bista, red pandas are changing their activity to “minimize their interactions with disturbances, such as humans, dogs, or livestock.”
He added: “This is drastically interfering with natural interactions between the animals, resulting in population isolation.”
Habitat loss isn’t the only threat facing red pandas. They’re also at risk from poaching and accidental snaring (getting stuck in traps left for other animals).
With this in mind, Bista says he is “concerned about the future of this species.”
Protecting red pandas
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), red pandas are endangered, which is one step away from being critically endangered. The next stage after that is extinct in the wild.
The union also notes on its website that it hasn’t assessed the status of red pandas since 2015.
“As the availability of suitable forests shrinks, it’s up to the red panda to weigh up its options on how to best survive,” noted Bista. “This trade-off can lead to an increased risk of mortality and population decline in the long run.”
However, he maintains that humans can and should be doing more to support the survival of red pandas.
He added that speed limits and noise restrictions could help red pandas, as well as more wildlife crossings. He also noted that, during mating and birthing seasons, human activities should be “strictly regulated.”