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The Verge Review of Animals: the red panda

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Mathias Appel/Flickr

This column is part of a series where Verge staffers post highly subjective reviews of animals. Up until now, we’ve written about animals without telling you whether they suck or rule. We are now rectifying this oversight.

From an early draft of Genesis:

It was getting late on the sixth day, and God realized he had a few more animals to make. God really wanted to make sure everything was done before the seventh day, because he had already made plans that couldn't be moved. So God gathered some of his favorite creations and said, "Alright, let's try to design by committee. What's missing?"

And God's creations sat around the table shouting a cacophony of unhelpful things: "I like bears!" "I like foxes!" "I like raccoons!" And God said, "Bears... foxes... raccoons... Sure, whatever, I can probably work with that." And God said, "Let us make a wild animal in the image of... um... all those things I just said." And it was so.

Earlier this month, we ran a review of the Canis latrans var., also known as the coywolf — the hybrid result of mating between coyotes, wolves, and dogs. But today I want to talk about a Hybrid In Name Only (HINO), the Ailurus fulgens, aka the red panda, aka the red bear-cat, aka the firefox. An internet-famous IRL cartoon character, native to eastern Himalayas, western China, and various zoos.

The red panda's classification hasn't always been so clear. At one point, it was considered to be related to the giant panda, but after genetic testing, the red panda was subsequently drafted into the bear species. (Their mutual love of bamboo still persists, however.) At this point the red panda is in a family all its own — Ailuridae, to be specific — but does belong to the Musteloidea superfamily, which makes its close-ish cousins of otters, raccoons, and skunks.

(Mark Dumont/Flickr)

But taxonomic ambiguity should not take away from the red panda's many wonderful qualities, including above all else its superstar looks. There's no other way to put it: the red panda knows how to work a camera, with curious eyes, a beautiful red fur coat that it maintains with cat-like cleaning habits, and a long striped tail that doubles as a blanket when it's cold.

It should come as no surprise, then, that red pandas are somewhat internet famous. People love the way red pandas sleep, play in the snow, and grasp bamboo with their hidden thumb. Even its defense mechanism, while not particularly threatening to humans, seems to have been created with cuteness in mind: standing on its hind legs to look "vicious." (Don't play, red panda. You're still adorable when upright.) One particularly famous red panda, Futa, earned a commercial deal with a soft drink company in Japan. (Futa also served as inspiration for Pabu from The Legend of Korra.)

Alas, the red panda's uniqueness and natural good looks haven't given it a leg up in the preservation department. As with so many cute things, red pandas have become something of a scarce commodity ("endangered," to be more specific). The reasons, as they all too often are, largely come back to climate change, deforestation, and poachers. (The New York Times published a great piece last year on all the troubles facing the red panda population, as well as what's being done to help with that.) Maybe if that secret thumb of theirs were to help them grip, say, swords and other bladed weapons, perhaps that upright stance of theirs would be a little more effective and intimidating.

The Red Panda

Verge Score: 8.6

8.6

Verge Score

Good Stuff

  • Internet-famous looks

  • Secret thumb

  • Blanket tail!

Bad Stuff

  • Thumb not used to full potential

  • Scientific family is very lonely

Correction: A previous version of this review stated that Futa the Red Panda was the inspiration for a character on Avatar: The Last Airbender. Obviously, Ross wasn't being the leaf. The review has been since been updated.