With their fluffy, multi-colored fur and alternatively lazy and playful personalities, red pandas already have their fair share of fans. And with the recent release of the Disney film “Turning Red,” this adorable—but endangered—creature has gained even more media exposure. Enjoy these red panda sightings from the Asian Division and elsewhere in the Library’s collections!
This first red panda can be found in the pages of the Zhonghua da zidian 中華大字典 (“Great Chinese Dictionary”), first published in 1915, under the heading for the character “bear” (xiong 熊). The Chinese term used here translates literally to “bear cat” (xiong mao 熊貓). The same word is still used in Chinese today, but typically with a prefix of “small” for the red panda and “large” for the giant panda.
Also known as the “lesser panda” or “fire fox” (among other names), red pandas inhabit an area that extends from the eastern Himalayas across Nepal, Bhutan, and northeast India to the provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan in southwest China.
Until the early 20th century, in English the word “panda” referred almost exclusively to this animal. When knowledge of the panda bear—another bamboo-loving mammal from Asia—spread to the English-speaking world, it came to be called the “giant panda” to distinguish it from the smaller “true panda.” Unlike the giant panda, however, the red panda is not a member of the bear family, Ursidae. It is actually the sole living species of its own family, Ailuridae, and a very distant relative of the raccoon.
This illustration from Samuel Goodrich’s “Illustrated Natural History of the Animal Kingdom,” originally published in 1861, demonstrates this usage of “panda,” as well as “wah,” another early name. As the text below the illustration notes, “It frequently utters a loud cry of ‘Wha! wha!’ whence one of its names.”
The onomatopoeic name “wah” appears in an article from the 1906 issue of the Los Angeles Herald. The accompanying illustration features both “wah” and “cat bear,” a variation on the literal translation of the Chinese term described above.
By the 1920s, Americans could see real red pandas in the nation’s capital. This 1927 Washington Times article marks the arrival of a “panda, or cat bear” to the Washington Zoo.
Another example of a red panda in captivity can be found in the black and white photograph below. This photo lacks a clearly indicated location, but comes from the National Photo Company Collection, most of which dates to the period 1909-1932 and documents various aspects of life in Washington, D.C.Red pandas have long been a fixture at the Washington Zoo, as reflected in the photograph of two baby “lesser pandas” born there in the summer of 1962.
Whatever name they go by, red pandas remain fascinating creatures. Continued loss of habitat, however, threatens the future of the species. Conservation efforts, such as those outlined in the publications pictured below, are vital for their survival.
For questions or more information about any of the materials discussed in this post, please visit Ask a Librarian to contact a relevant subject specialist at the Library.
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