Guwahati, Feb. 4: The elusive red panda has been photographed for the first time by a camera placed at an altitude of 10,000 feet in Arunachal Pradesh, much to the delight of wildlife lovers.
Senior coordinator of WWF-India, Arunachal Pradesh, Pijush Kumar Dutta told The Telegraph that red pandas were photographed twice in December last year by a camera deployed on a ridge top near Kumrtoser area of Zemithang Valley in Tawang district, the first photograph being that of a solitary animal taken on December 22. “This was undoubtedly the first incidence of camera trapping of a red panda in Arunachal Pradesh,” he said.
The same camera also captured a barking deer, a yak, a variety of birds, including blood pheasants, and alarmingly, a dog using the same trail — a possible threat to the red pandas in the area.
Two cameras had been placed at different locations for trapping the elusive animal.
The other camera, located deep within the more inaccessible parts of the valley near a stream, captured frequent shots of Himalayan gorals (Naemorhedus goral) coming down for water, Himalayan serow (Caprnicornis thar) and Arunachal macaque (Macaca munzala) among others.
Both the camera traps were deployed for an average of 12 days and the results have shown the advantages of such short cycles of sampling for detection of rare fauna in the area.
Camera traps are playing an increasingly important role in wildlife conservation, enabling scientists to collect photographic evidence of rarely seen and often globally endangered species with relative ease.
“WWF-India has been trying to use camera traps, which have so far been used mostly for terrestrial mega fauna, to study the status of the elusive red panda in the wild. Given the success in Arunachal Pradesh, it is now evident that the technology can be used to understand the status of the red panda population in the wild in better way, as the terrain on which the animals stay is otherwise difficult to monitor continuously,” Dutta said.
There had been recent reports of red panda sightings but the photographs are the best proof till date of the presence of the elusive animal in the state.
Dutta said they had trained the locals in Zemithang to monitor the cameras and this had proved beneficial.
Known for the beauty of its reddish-orange coat and white “teardrops” around its eyes, the red panda (Ailurus fulgens) is found in parts of Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, southern China and India. Experts say Arunachal has the largest chunk of potential habitat for the animal, approximately 23,000 square km, of which 11,300 square km is presumably used by the animals.
Red pandas have been classified as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and face threats from degradation, destruction and fragmentation of its forest habitats.
He said there were plans to sample more nearby areas with camera traps for an extended period for documentation of fauna and possible threats.