Four Protected Areas in Sikkim were surveyed to collect information on the occurrence of red pandas and the status of the habitat. Two districts in Arunachal Pradesh, Tawang and West Kameng were earmarked as focal areas, and analysis of secondary data available helped in identification of eight sites for intensive surveys.
In Sikkim, an area of 1341km2 was identified as potential habitat, and it was found that more than 60 per cent of it fell outside the Protected Area network, making the red panda population vulnerable to existing threats. In Western Arunachal Pradesh, secondary data was used to identify eight sites for intensive surveys. Pangchen Valley in Tawang, and parts of the West Kameng district including the Eagle Nest Wildlife Sanctuary and Thembang Bapu CCA were identified as key potential habitats.
The study also revealed major threats to the habitats:
- Habitat degradation due to excessive extraction of fuel wood is the biggest threat to the red panda habitat in Sikkim and Western Arunachal Pradesh.
- Increase in population of feral dogs in the vicinity of the red panda habitat is leading to predation, especially since a large part of the potential habitat falls outside the Protected Area network and does not receive adequate legal protection.
- In some areas, occasional hunting of red pandas by local communities is also a concern.
Securing the red panda habitat:WWF-India works with local communities to reduce their dependence of fuelwood by introducing them to innovative techniques to meet their energy demands. In Sikkim, more than 200 individuals have been trained in manufacturing bio-briquettes in the areas around Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary and Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve. These briquettes, made from coal produced from agricultural waste and mud, are used for cooking and heating. They have helped reduce fuelwood consumption. In the Lumpu and Muchat villages of Tawang District of Arunachal Pradesh, yak-dung briquettes are being promoted.
Garnering local support:Local communities are involved in alternate livelihood activities that draw benefits for them, while also supporting conservation initiatives. In the Pangchen Lumpo Muchat, Pangchen Lakhar and Thembang Bapu CCAs in Arunachal Pradesh, community-based tourism enables the locals to earn additional income from the tourists coming to the CCAs to site red pandas. The conservation committee of these CCAs have been trained to overlook all red panda conservation initiatives in the area with assistance from WWF-India. They are equipped with camera traps, GPS and field gear to independently conduct surveys and patrolling to monitor red panda movement and control illegal activities.
Mitigating threats to red panda populations:Working with local communities to reduce forest dependence and involving them in conservation measures addresses the threat of habitat degradation and fragmentation. WWF-India has also collaborated with the Sikkim Anti-Rabies and Animal Health (SARAH) and launched a programme to sterilize feral dogs in order to control their growing population around critical wildlife areas.
The future:WWF-India aims to continue monitoring red panda populations in Sikkim and Western Arunachal Pradesh, as well as engage with the local communities through innovative approaches to involve them in threat mitigation measures that wouldlead to conservation of this species.
- Monitor red panda populations in potential habitats
- Reduce forest dependence of local communities
- Increase opportunities for economic benefits for local communities through conservation of red panda habitat
- Develop trans-boundary relations with range countries for red panda conservation
WWF-India and EDC members sampling red panda habitat in Barsey ...
© Pijush K Dutta/WWF-India
Magnificent creatures like the Red Panda are endangered by human ...
© Degin Dorjee / WWF-India
The red panda sighted at Komratsar in Arunachal Pradesh
© Dipankar Ghose/WWF-India