Most red pandas have tails about as long as their bodies.
Most red pandas have tails about as long as their bodies.
Photograph by Qiming Yao / Dreamstime

Red Panda

These mammals spend most of their time in trees and are famous for their incredible acrobatic skills.

Common Name:
Red panda
Scientific Name:
Ailurus fulgens
Average Life Span In The Wild:
8 to 10 years
22 to 25 inches, plus tail of 15 to 19 inches
Eight to 17 pounds

A red panda totters along the branch of an evergreen tree, placing one paw in front of the other like a gymnast on a balance beam. But then ... whoops! The panda loses its footing. A fall from this height—about a hundred feet—could be deadly. But the panda quickly grips the branch with all four paws and some seriously sharp claws, steadies itself, and keeps moving.


Red pandas and giant pandas share a similar name—and a love for bamboo—but they aren’t closely related. Scientists think that red pandas are more closely related to weasels, raccoons, and skunks. And while giant pandas spend most of their time plodding around on the ground looking for food, red pandas spend about 90 percent of their time in the trees in the misty mountains of Nepal, Myanmar, and central China where they live.

In fact, red pandas have adapted so well to life in the trees that they’re famous for their incredible acrobatic skills. They even have a special thumb-like wrist bone that helps them get an extra grip when climbing. While they can’t exactly extend their arms like an acrobat to keep their balance, they can use their tails. If a red panda starts to lean in one direction, it can swing its tail the opposite way to steady itself.

Spending time in trees is how these animals avoid predators, such as snow leopards. Their reddish coats and white face markings provide camouflage in the red-brown moss and white lichen of trees where they live. About the only time red pandas go to the ground is to, um, go. And they scamper down tree trunks headfirst. How? They rotate their ankles 180 degrees—that’s like being able to turn your foot backward. The move gives their curved claws a better angle to hang on to the bark.


Red pandas are endangered. Their forest homes are being cut down, and poachers hunt them for their fur. And their adorableness might put them in more danger, since they’re ideal targets for the illegal pet trade.

Luckily people are trying to help. For instance, the Red Panda Network hires local people to be forest guardians. These panda pals keep watch over the red pandas in Nepal, replant bamboo, and help paying tourists observe them without disturbing the creatures. Other organizations are using high-tech methods to track poachers. By taking a DNA sample from a red panda rescued from the black market, conservationists can learn where the animals are being taken from.