Winter Habitat Preferences of Endangered Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens) in the Forest Research Preserve of Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environmental Research, Bumthang, Bhutan
Author Pema Dendup
Knowledge about habitat preferences of the endangered red panda Ailurus fulgens is limited in Bhutan. This Study of the red panda in the forest research preserve (11 km2 ) of the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environmental Research (UWICER) was conducted from December 2015 to February 2016. The purpose of the Study was to confirm red panda presence within the preserve and assess its winter habitat preferences. Following a systematic sampling design, the entire preserve was divided into 500m X 500m grids. With reference to the centroid of a grid, 50m radius plot was laid to record the presence of red panda and associated 16 habitat variables.
This study revealed that in the winter, the red panda is found between 3154m and 3707m elevation in the forest research preserve of UWICER.
Habitat preferences by red panda were calculated using Ivlev’s electivity index. Mixed conifer forests with highly dense bamboo understories within an elevation of 3600m to 3700m were preferred. Red panda selected slopes >300 and preferred southeast and east aspects within 70m of a water source. Borinda grossa with an average height of <50cm was preferred over bamboo (Yushania maling). Canopy cover of less than 20% of tree species such as Himalayan birch (Betula utilis),
Himalayan hemlock (Tsuga dumosa), and wild Himalayan cherry (Prunus cerasoides) with the understory of Himalayan birch (B. utilis), Bhutan fir (Abies densa), Himalayan maple (Acer campbellii), and rhododendron (Rhododendron keysii) were most preferred forested habitats. These findings suggest a potential seasonal difference in habitat preferences by the red panda.