Day 29: For the last Close up Monday of 2020’s 30 Days Wild I’ll be focusing on gulls. I don’t know if many of you remember Harald the lesser black-backed gull chick who we helped last year, after falling from his roof top nest? Well, this past week we’ve had to save his sibling (from this years brood) from a similar fate. He was found unharmed, calling to his parent from the pavement. David scooped him up and we found a place for him at a local rehabber.
It got me wondering why are these gulls nesting in urban settings? I turned to the RSPB for more information. Apparently since the 1940’s herring and lesser black-backed gulls have nested on rooftops. The reason for this is unknown but the consensus is the ever abundance of food and predator free breeding sites. In my area of Liverpool it has only been the last few years that we have seen gull nests on chimney stacks. They do seem to be becoming more prevalent and it seems that gulls prefer to return yearly to the same nesting ground.
Last year we watched two gull nests, one a herring and another a lesser black-backed gull. The herring gull had three chicks but only one survived to fledging, whereas the black-backed gull had two chicks and both, though aided by humans, after falling from the roof were taken to be rehabilitated.
David and Harald
This year we only have the lesser black-backed gull nest in the road, however already one chick has been found dead in a neighbours yard after, again falling out of the nest and the latest rescue, Benjamin the tiny chick we found crying in the road.
David and Benjamin
All gulls are protected under the The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The most synonymous gull to the UK psyche is the herring gull. Though there seems to be an abundance of them in cities and by the sea-side they are in fact endangered due to population declines and listed red on the UK’s birds of conservation concern. This year we have a regular herring gull who visits multiple times daily. I fear he will get used to human contact but he enjoys the abundance of cat food we have and its better than the food waste going to landfill.
Steven the herring gull
A little information on both species:
Both are omnivores, mate for life and can drink fresh and salt water due to a special gland above their eyes that flush out excess salt. Both herring and lesser black-backed gulls have similar life spans of up to 15 years. Lesser black-backed gulls’ UK conservation status is amber.
‘Panda’ from the Nepalese, nigalya ponya meaning bamboo footed.
The red panda was the first ‘panda’ to be know to the West as early as the 1800’s! In 1825 Frenchman Frederic Cuvier published an account describing the red panda and named the species, Ailurus fulgens fulgens, or shining cat.
By the 1840’s English naturalist Brian Houghton Hodgson had written a detailed study on the red panda or ‘Wah’. Focusing on habitat and diet.
It was not until 1869 that the giant panda was identified. However to distinguish the species, the first panda was renamed the lesser panda.
It’s been eight years since I saw my first red panda, having been oblivious to their existence until then. For me it was love-at-first-sight! They seem to be a number of animals all rolled into one, which has caused countless debates as to what family or classification of animal the red panda truly is.
Are they bear-cats? They are cat sized (always a plus in my book) and rather bear-like, though they are not part of the ursidae family.
They bark like a dog: There is little published evidence but the red panda is highly susceptible to diseases like canine distemper.
Their vocalisations sound similar to birds:
A living fossil: Recent DNA studies have concluded that the red panda is in its own family of the Ailuridae, being part of the super-family the Musteloidea, (weasels, skunks and raccoons).
The only similarity with giant pandas is their diet (bamboo) and the false thumb, an elongated wrist bone that acts like a sixth digit. It helps with holding food and climbing, especially head first!
Red pandas are found largely in temperate, deciduous forests, from Nepal to China and Myanmar. There are two subspecies, Ailurus fulgens fulgens and Ailurus fulgens styani. Their red fur, one of the densest of all mammals (for insulation), is perfect camouflage during autumn.
Due to living in Himalayan regions, red pandas prefer cooler days. Winter is the best time to find them active.
Although they have a penchant for bamboo, eating up to 45% of their body weight a day, red pandas are classed as carnivores. They eat fruit, insects, eggs and small birds.
Feeding Red Pandas at Paradise Wildlife Park
Red pandas have a slow metabolism due to being unable to digest bamboo properly, hence being rather sedentary. I’ve noticed many zoo guests just walk past red panda enclosures because they have been asleep up a tree. In most cases you need to visit several times in the hope of catching one awake. Being a crepuscular animal doesn’t help either as they are more active at dawn and dusk.
They are solitary animals, only coming together for mating. The female is only receptive one day a year. The breeding season is usually January to April with birth around June/July. The litter usually consists of one to four cubs, but usually two.
Photo by David Evans
In 2010 I was honoured to witness Chester Zoo’s female red panda, Lushui move her cub, Lily from nest to nest. They do this to avoid predators. Cubs come out of the nest from around three months, and stay with their mothers for about a year before finding their own territory. Their lifespan in captivity can reach 15 years.
However beautiful red pandas are, they are classified as endangered by the IUCN. The main threats to them are deforestation, hunting, poaching and illegal trade. In China there is a traditional custom dating back to around the 13th century where red panda pelts are given to newlyweds as a sign of ‘good luck’. Red pandas are also predated upon by snow leopards and martens.
Yellow Necked Marten
Traditional Red Panda hat
Conservation: Exact numbers of red pandas in Asia are relatively unknown, estimates say up to 10,000 adults. There is a worldwide effort to protect the red panda and its habitat. In many of the countries where the red panda is found, their habitat has been designated areas of protection, though these areas are hard to police. The Red Panda Network liaise with ‘forest guardians’ to educate and highlight the need to conserve red panda habitat. They are also working directly with the creators of the Panchthar-Ilam-Singhalila(PIS corridor), which will be the first Red Panda Protected Forest.
In captivity there are two long term initiatives for breeding, the Red Panda Species Survival Programme (SSP) and the European Endangered Species Programme (EES) which offers a ‘stud book’ of potential mates.
Popular culture: There have been a number of depictions of red pandas on many platforms over the years. Another name for the red panda is the Fire Fox. Mozilla use this name for their web browser, though their logo is ambiguous.
Cinema: In 2008 DreamWorks released Kung Fu Panda with Shifu, being a lose representation of a red panda! A year earlier an animated Barbie film, the Island Princess had a red panda as a friendly aide.
In 2013 Pocket Gems released a game called Animal Adventure with a red panda as one of the main characters.
The future…is still uncertain.
At the time of writing, the WWF have announced that the giant panda’s status has improved from endangered to vulnerable. Hopefully the red panda being under the ‘umbrella’ of conservational efforts for the giant panda, will start to feel the effects of these protection methods soon?
And finally: Sadly, earlier this year, the Red Panda Network announced that poaching of the red panda had increased in 2016! Their annual International Red Panda Day (17th September 2016) will focus on anti-poaching initiatives.
The road ahead may still be long but there is hope for the future of the red panda. Conservation efforts are starting to produce results for not only the giant panda but tigers also, why not for the red panda? They have so much going for them. To me they are sweet, endearing animals, they are all superstars, none other than Ming Ming!