Together for the well-being of survivors

Protecting the red panda is our most difficult mission. Sometimes, despite the efforts of local authorities and associations to raise awareness, animals are captured and sold to wealthy individuals who want an exotic animal. We have already reported on a record-breaking seizure of live pandas on the border between China and Laos. Here is an update on the situation and their care by the association "Free the Bears".

Historical reminder :

In January 2018, the Australian wildlife conservation and animal protection group 'Free the Bears', in partnership with the Lao PDR Forest Inspection Department, rescued 6 red pandas (Ailurus fulgens) of wildlife traffickers. Also known as the little panda or red cat-bear, this is the first confiscation of endangered red pandas in Lao history and the largest seizure of live red pandas on record.

The animals were intercepted following a random inspection of a van travelling from the Chinese border to the northern Lao town of Luang Namtha on Friday 12 January. According to officials from the Provincial Forestry Inspection Bureau, the animals were walked across an unguarded border crossing to avoid inspection and then placed in a transport van once they arrived in Laos. The driver of the van, who claimed not to know the origin or destination of the animals, was arrested for violating wildlife trafficking laws.

The authorities then entrusted the animals to the association "Free the Bears" and a team quickly took charge of them and brought them to the association's sanctuary in Luang Prabang. Despite the best efforts of the carers and vets, only four of the rescued pandas survived their first day and one died the next day. It is highly likely that these animals were suffering from serious pathologies due to the stress they were under and the potential exposure to infectious diseases during their capture.

Two of the rescued pandas were nicknamed "Bruce Lee" and "Jackie Chan". However, after a period of quarantine and health checks, the vets discovered that the three red pandas were female. The red "kung fu" pandas were renamed Mei li and Zhuxiong, which means "beautiful" and "bamboo bear" in Chinese. The third female was named Santephaap, which means "peace" in the local Lao language.

On 15 September 2018, on the occasion of International Red Panda Day, the survivors were able to discover their enclosure, specially designed for them.

"They were in a terrible state when they were rescued, dehydrated, hungry and extremely scared. Our team spent months building up their strength and slowly gaining their confidence. Covered from head to toe in thick fur, once under anaesthetic, we were finally able to examine them closely and solve the mystery of their sex," commented Kirsty Officer, veterinary advisor for Free the Bears. "All three females passed the health checks with flying colours. They have been microchipped and we have taken samples to find out more about the origin of these amazing creatures," added Ms Officer.

The enclosure, located in the Luang Prabang Wildlife Sanctuary, includes giant teak trees and dens with custom-made nesting boxes to help them withstand the summer heat.

Long-term relief: CPPR gives a helping hand!

Since September 2018, the rescued female red pandas have been living at the centre where a team of animal caretakers takes care of each of them on a daily basis. It took a long time to adapt, but they have recovered from their post-traumatic shock and are now in good health.

At the end of 2020, we wanted to check with the head of the centre to see how we could help. Brian, our local contact, told us that the bags of food for the red pandas (bamboo powder, also known as "panda cake") could no longer be transported by volunteers, as was usually the case.

Travel restrictions due to the covid-19 pandemic mean that food has to be transported by a carrier, at additional cost.

As stocks are decreasing, we have decided to take over the first transport for the year 2021.

Another need: coolness! In Laos, temperatures during the dry season exceed 30 degrees every day. This is not at all ideal for the pandas, which are adapted to the much more wintry climate of the Himalayan heights. Brian had already thought about possible improvements:

  • install a rainwater collection tank in the red pandas' enclosure.
  • Build pipes to supply misters around the red panda enclosure.

The benefits :

  • maintaining a cooler atmosphere within the enclosure
  • watering of the trees in the enclosure, which will therefore remain more leafy and provide better shade
  • a sustainable and ecological installation.

We are therefore delighted to announce that the funding for this equipment, to improve the welfare of the seized red pandas, has been completed in the course of the year!

Indeed, thanks to the precious support of "Thoirry Conservation", of the "Le Pal Nature" foundation, and to your great generosity, we sent the funds to the sanctuary in July.

The enclosure now has a bespoke rainwater storage tank that will allow better irrigation of the enclosure during the long dry season, ensuring that the red pandas enjoy the shade of the teak trees for much of the year. The rainwater storage tank also serves as an observation platform, allowing visitors on guided tours to experience a high view of the red pandas in the treetops.

Thank you for helping us to help red pandas, whether they are free or victims of humans, all over the world!

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