Red Panda Project

Earth Island News

Imagine a place where thick forests are filled with creatures of unparalleled diversity and beauty; a place where rhododendrons bloom in pink, red, and white, and where a quick turn of your head reveals some of the world’s most spectacular mountain vistas, including four of the world’s seven tallest mountains. Imagine a place where you can see endangered animals such as the elusive red panda.

Brian and Madeline at a school - classroom with a red panda poster

This place does exist, in the northeastern corner of Nepal along the Indian border. This area, which contains the densest population of red pandas in Nepal, is one of the world’s 25 biodiversity “hotspots.” However, destructive land management practices pose a mounting threat to the survival of red panda and other important species that depend on this area.

While some parts of Nepal’s eastern Himalayan broadleaf forest, the red panda’s prime habitat, have been set aside as conservation areas, the remaining portions are swiftly being logged for timber and firewood and converted into pastures. The majority of Nepal’s red panda population lives outside these protected areas.

For these reasons, The Red Panda Project is advocating the creation of the Panchthar-Ilam-Singhalila (PIS) Red Panda Protected Forest (RPPF), the world’s first protected area dedicated to red pandas. Once established, the PIS Red Panda Protected Forest will link existing reserves and protect nearly 25 percent of Nepal’s red panda population. In addition, the PIS RPPF will be the first community-managed national forest in Nepal, and could serve as a model for future community-based national forest management.

One person canmake a difference

In February Brian Williams, RPP’s founder and executive director, was invited to speak at the San Diego Zoo by American Association of Zoo Keepers (AZAK) San Diego Chapter Treasurer Nicki Boyd, a former red panda keeper and lifelong red panda lover. This trip was the beginning of a fruitful relationship with the San Diego Zoo and, in the fall, RPP will become a partner of the zoo’s Conservation Outreach program.

Ever wonder if a simple action on your part can make a difference in the world? Ask fourth-grader Madeline Lew. While doing research for a school project for La Cañada’s Crestview Preparatory School, Lew found RPP on the Internet and contacted Williams, who told her about his upcoming talk at the San Diego Zoo. She persuaded her mother to drive her to San Diego to hear that talk. When they met at the zoo, Madeline presented Williams with a pink piggy bank full of $41 in change to help save red pandas. Her act inspired RPP to create the Red Panda Ranger program for children who want to spread the word and help save red pandas. Lew, RPP’s first official Red Panda Ranger, and her mother invited Williams to speak at Crestview Preparatory and neighboring Walden school at the end of March. Lew’s one phone call created a cascading effect that helped create greater awareness of the plight of the red panda to over 300 people. Her selfless actions demonstrated that one person can make a difference.

This kind of energy helped RPP to launch its inaugural community-based research and education project and eco-tour. Project Pude Kudo will lay the foundation for our work in the Eastern Himalaya. This involves establishing a baseline of the PIS red panda population and habitat, as well as conducting a series of workshops with schools and community groups in the PIS corridor, to increase awareness of the presence and importance of red pandas there.

From December 22–January 8, we will be searching for red panda. Join us as we explore the treasures of the Kathmandu Valley, taste one of Nepal’s organic teas, visit ancient temples, and help search for the elusive red panda. For more information, contact us at with “eco-trip” in the subject line.

As RPP celebrates its first anniversary, dedicated people like Boyd and the Lew family encourage our efforts. Please join us to save red pandas and their habitat. Become a member of The Red Panda Project by joining online at or e-mail us at

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