Escaped red panda found mortally wounded

October 6, 2009

To lose one Red Panda, as Lady Bracknell might have observed, may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose both, as Galloway Wildlife Park in Kirkcudbright did last February, looks like carelessness.

The adult female, Pichu, was recovered two months later. Her cub Isla remained at large until last Thursday, BBC News reports.

Sadly, last week Isla was found injured by the side of the road between Kippford and Dalbeattie in Kirkudbrightshire. She was taken to a vet, but later succumbed to her injuries.

At the time of the escape, park owner John Denerley expressed cautious optimism for the future of the pandas, telling the BBC: “To cope with the lack of food during the winter months, red pandas have evolved several ways of meeting their energy demands. They … have a very low metabolic rate – almost as low as sloths – and can slow their metabolism even further in colder temperatures.”

Last week Denerley said: “Amazingly, Isla survived in the wild for such a long period and was in good condition since she escaped … We are devastatingly upset over her death.”

The Red Panda, also known as the Lesser Panda, or Firefox, is of uncertain phylogenetic affinity. Scientists have reached some agreement on what it is not: a cat, a raccoon, a fox or a bear. Indeed it may not even be a panda. But what it is remains a contentious issue.

A recent discussion of the phylogeny of this Asian curiosity can be found in Flynn et al. (DOI: 10.1006/mpev.2000.0819), who place it among the badgers.