Red pandas are not bears but they do mainly eat bamboo, like their much larger namesake the black and white giant panda. Officially classified as endangered, red pandas live across a stretch of the Himalayas and are in fact part of the same family as weasels and raccoons. Now, advances in fancy gene sequencing have allowed scientists to analyse their full genetic make up for the first time – with big implications for conservation.
Previously, scientists recognised two different subspecies. Those pandas to the east of the Nujiang River (also known as the Salween River), with wider cheekbones and redder faces, were classified as the Chinese red panda. Those to the west were the Himalayan red panda.
But this division into has long been debated. The Nujiang River was perhaps a convenient and seemingly obvious geographical feature on which to place a boundary, but pandas on either side didn’t show a clear difference. MORE