Habre’s Nest- a paradise for the Red Panda
Shrouded by the mist, Habre’s Nest offers the chance to catch a glimpse of the shy and rather elusive Red Panda.
Suddenly the lights dimmed, the temperature started to decrease; where there was clear weather with crystal sun-shine just few minutes ago, became masked by the mist. I looked at my watch, to find that it was only 9am. We became anxious and rather frustrated as our chance to see “him” became low again. My friends, Saubhik and Anirban both were of the opinion that it was obviously our bad luck. We were there for 3 days just to meet ‘him’ to no avail. Oh yes, we found his signature, the proof of his being in the vicinity in the faecal matters, the saliva on the uprooted bamboo tips, but not him. It was our last day, if we couldn’t sight him; we would have to wait for at least another 9 months before our next attempt. Suddenly, our mentor Mridul called to me, “We have to move down”.
The forest trail was deep, the bamboo forest literally made us to move down and forward on our knees. After half an hour, we reached a point under a big rhododendron and the sun came out of the cloud and mist. Mridul’s excited exclamation, “LOOK” made us follow his pointing. What we saw was unforgettable; we forgot to take out our cameras! To our delight we discovered that it’s not him, rather it’s her. She, along with her two children, basked under the soft rays of the sun while enjoying a breakfast of bamboo leaves. The mother watched us carefully to judge if we offered any threat to her kids while we took out our cameras to shoot the most elusive mammal of India, the Red Panda.
Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens fulgens) is the only true Panda; they belong to a family of their own and was discovered 75 years before Giant Panda. This unique and charismatic species travelled millions of years in time with the help of their extraordinary survival strategies. Red Panda is one of the cutest animal on earth. This can help them become a Iconic brand ambassador for Wild Life Conservation. After surviving for millions of years now they are on the brink of extinction due to human pressure and habitat loss. Today less than 2500 Red Pandas remains in the wild.
Primarily a herbivore, the Rad Panda consumes about 20,000 bamboo leaves a day. Bamboo is in abundance in their natural habitat and the Red Panda can only digest 24% of the bamboo available. The extended wrist bone acts as a thumb to grab and hold the bamboo- a similarity they share with the giant panda. Red Panda has perfect tree dwelling claws and body color to blend with nature. The dark red color helps them to absorb the sunrays effectively. Red Panda prefer to eat sitting on tree branches to avoid land predators. They sleep on trees and even lick water from the moss. Red Panda use their long bushy tail as wraparound blanket since it helps with the chilly Himalayan weather. Red Pandas sleep most of the day time, though they eat in every 4-5 hours. Red Pandas use the Common Latrine system. It is like visitors’ log book, containing all the information about other users. Red Panda has double layered fur to deal with harsh weather, it also makes them water proof. Red Panda also eat flowers like rhododendron, fruits like sorbush, kiwi, insects, and eggs etc. Red Panda taste the air to sense danger, one similarity with reptile. Today only 50% of the cubs survive in the wild, though the population is getting better in Singalila.
Singalila National Park is one of the most exotic Himalayan forests in India. It is a wilderness located on the Singalila Ridge at an altitude of 7000 feet to 12000 feet above sea level with an area of 78.6 square kilometers. It was declared a National Park in 1992. The habitat type can be described as temperate forest of fir, deciduous hardwood and rhododendron with thick bamboo understory. There are over 600 varieties of orchids in bloom in Singalia, the largest concentration in any single geographical area in the world. The area gets considerable seasonal monsoon rains and is located in the Eastern Himalayan Region of India in the state of West Bengal. It is well known for the trekking route to Sandakphu that runs through it. The same habitat continues in Nepal called Tinchule Forest. Tinchule-Singalila is one of the best places in India to see the elusive Red Panda. There are an estimated 32 Red Pandas within the limits of Singalila. Apart from the Red Panda, other mammals found here are- Himalayan black bear, clouded leopard, leopard cat, Himalayan serow, barking deer, yellow-throated marten, wild boar, pangolin, pika and many other Eastern Himalayan exotics.
This is a birder’s paradise as well. More than 300 species of birds have been recorded here. It has a huge list of exotic birds, like- blood pheasant, satyr tragopan, kalij pheasant, brown and fulvous parrotbills, rufous-vented tit, and old world babblers like the fire-tailed myzornis and the golden-breasted fulvetta, rosefinchs, bull finches, wren babblers, laughing-thrushes, nuthatches, treecreepers, yuhinas, minivets, partridges and many more.
There are near about 32 individuals of Red Panda in this Tinchule-Singalila range. Apart from India & Nepal government, there is a research centre cum tourism hub in Kaikata, called Habre’s Nest (Habre means Red Panda in Nepal) leaded by legendary Shantanu Prasad. Shantanu along with his team (Mridul, Tashi, Sohoni, Sambhu etc) formed the Wildlife Awareness Trust for Environment & Research (WATER). 20% of the profit of Habre’s Nest goes to WATER. WATER does such things-
- Green Village Movement- about using alternative source of energy to firewood. One of the most important aspects is saving trees and keep the habitat intact
- Medical Camp- in 11 villages around Red Panda habitat
- Dog vaccination camp in Villages- rabies, canine distemper and hunting of wild animal including Red Panda
- Skill development for guide, porters and drivers lead to local employment
- Plantation of trees like rhododendron, sorbush, wild kiwi and bamboo
- Awareness camp to educate local people about ecosystem & wildlife
- Plastic cleaning program
When Red Panda is facing serious threat due to poaching and habitat reduction, hence this huge effort of Habre’s Nest & WATER is seriously commendable. It may take some time to judge if the work goes right or wrong, but today the effort shown by Shantanu Prasad & his team is set to turn Habre’s Nest into a Utopian world of Ecotourism business.