Sometimes, you may wonder if red pandas are hybrids. They have a striking resemblance to raccoons, shape like bears, and flexibility like cats all at once.
Here’s a quick answer – NO!
Red pandas are not hybrid animals. They come from parents of the same species, and belong to the mammalian family ”Ailurus fulgens”. And they’re the only surviving members of their genus.
Additionally, they are non-hybrids that still can’t produce hybrids with other animals. This is due to their unique genetic makeup and physical traits.
Now you know that red pandas are a separate species and not hybrid animals. But so you understand this better, let’s briefly discuss what hybrid animals are.
Table of Contents
- What is a Hybrid Animal?
- Why Are Red Pandas Not Considered Hybrids?
- How Many Species of Red Pandas Are There?
- Can Red Pandas Produce Hybrids?
What is a Hybrid Animal?
A hybrid animal is the offspring of two separate species. When animals of different species breed, the offspring that they produce inherit the traits and characteristics of the two parents.
Hybrid animals often end up larger aside from having a mix of behaviors from both parents. Nevertheless, the majority of them cannot reproduce since they are infertile.
Furthermore, these types of animals occur naturally in the wild or are bred by humans. See some well-known hybrids and their parent species:
- Mule – a crossbreed between horses and donkeys
- Liger – a crossbreed of a male lion and a female tiger.
- Beefalo – a crossbreed of domestic cattle and American bison.
- Hinny – a crossbreed of male horses and female donkeys.
- Wholphin – a rare hybrid between a false killer whale and a bottlenose dolphin.
- Grolar Bear – a crossbreed a polar bear and a grizzly bear.
Why Are Red Pandas Not Considered Hybrids?
Red pandas are not considered hybrids because of the following reasons:
Parents are the of the Same Animals
Red pandas are not considered hybrids because their parents are the same species. They are not the result of crossbreeding between two other animals but rather evolved from a common ancestor.
Red pandas have a unique genome that is not a mix of other species. This is evident from studies of their DNA. And the results prove that they are not related to any other living animal.
They are Indigenous to Asia
Red pandas are native to Asia’s Himalayas. This area is located from northern Myanmar to western China’s Sichuan region.
Red pandas have been living in these forests for millions of years, proving that they are native species. If they were hybrids, they wouldn’t have such a long history in Asia.
Similarly, their origins would be traced to the mating of two different animals.
They are Solitary and Territorial
Red pandas are territorial and solitary, unlike hybrids. They mark their home ranges with smell glands and feces.
Young cubs spend roughly a year with their mothers before becoming independent and learning how to establish their territory. It’s a red panda behavior that has been this way for decades.
Being solitary and territorial proves red pandas are separate species with their common behaviors.
They have a Specialized Diet
This includes a “false thumb” for grabbing bamboo stalks. Another adaptation is their powerful teeth to break down the fibrous plant material.
A hybrid animal is unlikely to have a diet that is so specialized and designed for a particular ecological niche.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature has established that red pandas are endangered.
There are only about 10,000 of them in the wild now because of habitat loss and poaching. Red pandas’ numbers would not be so low and their status would not be in such danger if they were hybrids.
How Many Species of Red Pandas Are There?
There are two different species of red panda, the Himalayan red panda, and the Chinese red panda.
Before now, it was believed that there were two subspecies of the red panda. But recent genomic analyses have revealed that there are truly two different species.
This indicates that they are closely related to each other more than they are related to any other living species.
The most prevalent species is the Himalayan red panda (Ailurus fulgens), which is found in the eastern Himalayas. Its forehead is a lighter color, and its lower back and rump have golden-yellow tips.
Chinese red panda (Ailurus styani) is a species that lives in southwest China. It is bigger than the Himalayan red panda, and it has a more obvious “false thumb” and a darker-colored face.
Can the Two Red Pandas Crossbreed?
Yes, the two red panda species can crossbreed. Nevertheless, the babies would be less likely to survive in the wild.
This is because both species have developed different genetic adaptations that serve their respective habitats.
Since this is the case of two red panda species crossbreeding, are the offspring produced considered hybrids? Let’s find out next!
Will Both Species Produce a Hybrid Offspring?
Yes, a Himalayan red panda and a Chinese red Canada can produce a hybrid offspring. Several hybrid red pandas have been born in captivity, however, they have always been infertile.
Additionally, these hybrids are unable to reproduce, they cannot pass on their hybrid genes to the next generation.
Here are some of the known cases of hybrid red pandas:
Studley Red Panda Breed (1985)
In 1985, Studley, a hybrid red panda, was born in Bristol Zoo. He was a red panda’s child, the son of a Himalayan red panda and a Chinese red panda.
Despite being a happy, healthy cub, Studley was sterile.
Ping Ping Red Panda Hybrid (1998)
In 1998, a hybrid red panda named Ping Ping was born at the Chengdu Panda Base in China. She was a Chinese red panda mother and the offspring of a Himalayan red panda father.
Ping Ping was an infertile cub even though it was healthy and active.
Kifu Red Panda Breed (2006)
Kifu was a hybrid red panda that was born in Taiwan’s Taipei Zoo in 2006. His parents were a Chinese red panda mother and a Himalayan red panda father.
He was an infertile cub even though he was healthy and active.
These are only a few examples of red pandas that have been hybridized. There may be others that have not been reported. However, it is important to know that hybrid red pandas are rare, and they are not able to reproduce.
Can Red Pandas Produce Hybrids?
No! Red pandas can’t produce hybrids with other animals, such as giant pandas, bears, foxes, etc. This is true because red pandas are distantly related to these animals, and their DNA does not match.
In addition, red pandas are unique species that can only mate with themselves successfully. Hence, interbreeding with other animals will lead to infertile offspring which would mostly die shortly after birth.
Can Red Pandas Mate with Racoons?
No, red pandas and raccoons cannot mate. They are two distinct species with unmatching genetic structures and reproductive cycles.
Raccoons belong to the Procyonidae family, while red pandas belong to the Ailuridae family. The chromosomes of these two families are not compatible and they are not closely related.
Although both animals share a common ancestor, yet over a million years, they have evolved differently. Their genetic makeup has evolved to the point that interbreeding cannot produce fruitful children.
According to reports, both species have been kept together in captivity, and they even developed a close connection but most attempts at mating fail.
RECOMMENDED READING: 5 REASONS WHY RED PANDAS CAN’T BREED WITH RACOONS
Can Red Pandas Successfully Mate with Giant Pandas?
No, red pandas and giant pandas cannot mate successfully in the wild and in captivity. They are not closely related enough.
More importantly, their chromosomes are not compatible. Even if they were able to mate, the offspring would likely be stillborn or die shortly after birth.
In 2006, the Nanjing Zoo in China attempted to breed red pandas and giant pandas. This resulted in the birth of twins that sadly passed away after a few days.
Again, In 2019, the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park in India also tried to interbreed the two species. It happened that the baby red panda died after one month.
Scientists have also attempted artificial insemination and embryo transfers but all have happened without success.
In summary, red pandas are not hybrid animals like liger, tigon, beefalo, etc. And this is because of their unique genetic structure, nativity, and diet.
Red pandas are divided into two species, the Himalayan and Chinese red pandas. When they mate, their babies are usually infertile due to unmatching characteristics.
Red pandas cannot mate with raccoons or giant pandas, despite the many similarities they share with these creatures. This shows how unique the red pandas are!
Now that you know the truth as to why red pandas are not hybrids. For this reason, I’m sure it will interest you to learn about their history.
How did they evolve over the years? Find out in our article, ‘’ How Have Red Pandas Evolved ? ’’ for more facts.
- Red Panda’s Status on IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species
- DNA Analysis Reveals There are Two Distinct Species of Red Pandas