A study reportedly claims that the genetic differences in red pandas suggest that they might be two separate species. Published in Science Advances by the researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, the study reveals that the original red pandas in Sichuan and Himalayas are two distinct animals.
According to the reports, scientists revealed that the Chinese red panda and the Himalayan red panda that were earlier thought to be the related subspecies were actually quite different in their genetic features. Their genetic diversity was concluded by studying the genomes of 65 red pandas that showed no similar variants in its Y Chromosomes.
This led the scientists to believe that the two species of red pandas from different terrain split 200,000 years ago without any significant genetic transfer between them, confirmed reports. The scientists also concluded that the Himalayan red pandas had less genetic diversity than the Chinese red pandas. This means that the Himalayan species were more exposed to diseases due to its low diversity.
The findings are crucial for scientists to help them in conservation efforts of the species, suggest reports. It indicates which of the two species is more susceptible to major threats like climate change, diseases, and environmental degradation. Red Pandas are currently listed as the endangered species in the 2015 assessment by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Chinese Academy of Sciences conservation biologist Yibo Hu, also the lead researcher in the published study, told the media that the findings helped the scientists to figure out that the interbreeding of two species of red pandas must be avoided in captivity to conserve their genetic uniqueness. He further added that the scientists now know that the Himalayan red panda, which is scarcer, needed urgent protection because of low genetic diversity and fewer population.
There are roughly 10,000 red pandas in the wild as estimated by the international experts. While Chinese red pandas are found in northern Myanmar, southeastern Tibet and China’s Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, the Himalayan red pandas are native to Nepal, India, Bhutan, and southern Tibet, as per the reports.