Red pandas are actually two separate species- a study

March 1,2020

Red Panda endangered in the wild

Scientists have found that Chinese red pandas and Himalayan red pandas are two different spp. The study is based on genetic study using three genetic markers.


  • Conservation biologists of Chinese Academy led the most comprehensive genetic research to study   the endangered red panda. Their study has been published in the journal Science Advances.

Highlights :

  • Red pandas, the bushy-tailed and russet-furred mammals that dwell in Asia’s high forests, are not a single species but rather two distinct spp.
  • Analysis shows substantial divergences between the two species – Chinese red pandas and Himalayan red pandas – in three genetic markers of DNA .
  • Study was conducted on 65  animals.
  • Scientists previously recognised red pandas as divided into two subspecies.
  •  While it had been proposed that these were separate species, the new study was the first to provide the genetic data necessary to allow such a judgment.
  • They are probably most closely related to a group that includes weasels, raccoons and skunks.
  • The two species also differ in coloration and skull shape.

About Chinese Red Panda:

  • Chinese red pandas are found in northern Myanmar as well as south-eastern Tibet, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces in China.
  • The tail rings of the Chinese red panda are more distinct.

About Himalayan Red Panda:

  • Himalayan red pandas are native to Nepal, India, Bhutan and southern Tibet in China.
  • The Himalayan red panda has more white on the face.
  • Himalayan red panda, has dark tail rings being more dark red and the pale rings being more whitish.
  • The Himalayan red panda is the scarcer of the two and needs urgent protection because of low genetic diversity and small population size.

Geographical Boundary:

  • The Yalu Zangbu River most likely marks the geographical boundary separating the two species, not the Nujiang river as previously believed.


  •  Estimated population red panda in the wild is about of 10,000.
  •  Major threats to red pandas include deforestation and degradation of their habitat due to human development.


  • IUCN Status: Endangered.
  • To conserve the genetic uniqueness of the two species, their interbreeding in captivity should be avoided.
  • Interbreeding between species may harm the genetic adaptations already established for their local habitat environment.
  • The recognition of the existence of two separate species could help guide conservation efforts for a mammal as its numbers dwindle in the wild, they added.

Do you know?

 Despite similar names, red pandas and giant pandas are not closely related.

  • Giant pandas are one of the world’s eight bear species.
  • Red pandas, with no close living relatives, are sometimes called living fossils as the only remaining member of the Ailuridae mammalian family.

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