A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

The Other Firefox

How young people are coming together to protect the red panda

By Nancy Whelan

A peace corps volunteer goes to Nepal to teach math and becomes enchanted with the red panda…

A software company names its award-winning web browser “Firefox,” another name for the little-known animal…

An 8-year-old girl receives a toy red panda and sets up a lemonade stand to help the cause…

And a Girl Scout becomes a spokesperson to teach kids about the red panda.

They’re all connected through the new Red Panda Network, which just celebrated the first International Red Panda Day.

The Red Panda Network introduces International Red Panda Day

Brian Williams went to Eastern Nepal as a Peace Corps volunteer in 1996 to teach math to young people at a village in the Himalayas. While there, he learned that the forest neighboring his village is home to one of the planet’s most endangered animals: the red panda.

Protecting the red panda is complicated. Their shrinking habitat reaches into Nepal, India, Bhutan, Myanmar, and western China. And since the spread of agriculture, deforestation and poaching are the main threat to the red panda’s survival, Williams’ early efforts involved educating the local community in Nepal that protecting these animals from illegal activities was good for the people, too.

When he returned to the United States, he began to put together the Red Panda Network, which today includes more than a dozen trained and paid forest guardians in Nepal.

This year, the first-ever International Red Panda Day was launched on November 13 in order to engage kids and communities in a global challenge to create as many “Red Panda Rangers” as possible.

Young people earned a special Red Panda Ranger certificate by participating in an imaginary “climb” of five mountains in the Himalayas and completing various educational activities along the way.

Roughly 30 zoos, a dozen schools and a thousand students have already signed up to participate, but Red Panda Network also encourages families, play groups and libraries to download the activity kit, which provides step-by-step instructions, badges and the final Red Panda Ranger certificate, from the Red Panda Network website.

Contributions received from International Red Panda Day will fund awareness campaigns in Nepal and China.

When “Firefox” is not just a web browser

When Mozilla (the company that created the Netscape browser) named its new award-winning browser “Firefox,” they were not expecting to be called upon to help save an endangered species that was also known as the firefox.

But that’s exactly what they’re doing now.

Mozilla has agreed to help the Red Panda Network spread the word about International Red Panda Day to its global audience of 400 million, and to continue working closely with the Red Panda Network. This includes finding specific ways to help, such as adopting red pandas in the wild and helping the people who protect them, by enlisting the Mozilla worldwide community to support the cause.

Eight-Year-Old Raises Awareness for Red Pandas

Hailey Sun Smith, an 8-year old from Baltimore, fell in love with the wild red panda last spring, when she received a red panda toy as a gift.

She read the illustrated pocket guide that came with the toy, and decided to set up a lemonade stand to raise cash for her new faraway friends, passing out red panda flyers to her customers.

“People were quite curious and more than a little impressed,” says her mother, Michelle Sun Smith.

Hailey raised enough cash to pay for the virtual adoption of one red panda through the Red Panda Network website.

Next, she went to work to persuade her school to help save the red panda. Her efforts were rewarded last week when her school held two assemblies in honor of International Red Panda Day. The science teacher talked to the kids about biodiversity, and an expert from the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington DC came to talk to the children about the red panda in captivity.

Then, on November 11, the school celebrated International Red Panda Day, and Brian Williams talked to the kids via Skype about conservation and red pandas in the wild, after which the children carried out various tasks in order to become bona fide Red Panda Rangers.

Girl Scout to Become Red Panda Network Spokesperson

Juliette West is already involved in helping animals. The 15-year-old Girl Scout writes a blog on behalf of elephants, and is featured in an upcoming Rattle the Cage Production entitled “How I became An Elephant,” the story of her adventurous trip to South-East Asia to meet her hero, Lek Chailert and to help free a female elephant from 30 years of abuse.

So, when the Red Panda Network went looking for a passionate spokesperson to help reach more teenagers, West seemed like the perfect candidate. As part of her Girl Scouts Gold Award project, she plans to develop the International Red Panda Day training manual.

“Today’s newly certified Red Panda Rangers are tomorrow’s International Red Panda Day facilitators,” says Brian Williams, founder of the Red Panda Network.

About the Red Panda

Ever heard of a firefox? How about a “bear cat” or the “bright panda” or the “shining cat?”

These are all names for the red panda, the adorable-looking, ring-tailed, cat-like creature with a masked face and a bear-like gait that almost defies classification.

In fact, the red panda is not really a panda at all. Scientists say they are more closely related to the raccoon, and are now classified in their own unique family, the Ailuridae, and are the only species of the genus Ailurus.

Most people have never even heard of these unique animals, although they populate a large range that extends from western Nepal to northern Myanmar. Red pandas also live throughout mountainous areas of southwestern China at elevations between 4,900 and 13,000 feet.

Red pandas depend on a bamboo diet, and thrive in forests with a bamboo understory, using their red and white markings to blend in with the reddish moss and white lichens. Due to deforestation, the spread of agriculture and poaching, red pandas are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red list, and their numbers in the wild are difficult to track or count.

The nonprofit Red Panda Network was created to save wild red pandas and preserve their habitat through the empowerment of local communities by adaptive community-based research, education and carbon mitigation.