It is one of the most beautiful and adorable animals in the world. The red panda conquers with its beautiful fur, its funny masked face and its ringed tail. But what we believed was only one species, there are actually two. This is the conclusion reached by researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences. They analyzed the DNA of several specimens of these mammals, native to the Himalayas and southwest China.
The genetic study was published in the journal «Science Advances». It suggests that the two known varieties of this animal are actually two different species.
Red pandas are mammals the size of a cat. They look more like red raccoons than pandas. They live at high altitude and, like the other pandas, eat bamboo. They once lived in much of Eurasia, but now they are limited to the southeastern and southern parts of the Tibetan Qinghai plateau. They are in danger of extinction. Its population has declined to only 10,000 individuals, a worrying figure.
A previous study indicated that there are two varieties of red panda. One is the Chinese and the other from the Himalayas. Chinese red pandas are known to have redder faces with fewer white tufts in their fur. Their tail rings are also darker with whiter between them.
The river divides them
Scientists have long suspected that they were not really varieties, but different species. To prove it, the team sequenced the genomes of 65 wild red pandas. The researchers collected samples of muscles, skin and blood from seven areas of the population. The analysis focused on finding differences in base pairs on the Y chromosome.
The data showed that not only are the two varieties of red panda different, but the Chinese red panda has three genetically distinct populations. He also showed that the line that divides the two species is not the Nujiang River, as previously thought, but the Yalu Zanbu River.
Researchers believe their findings are important for the survival of both species. They will help to concentrate the specific conservation activities that best suit each of them. In addition, they will help prevent miscegenation.