Saving the Red Panda in the Eastern Himalayas

Saving the red panda in the eastern Himalayas

High in the Eastern Himalayan forests of the Singalila National Park lies Habres Nest, a research hub and wildlife tourism centre dedicated the conservation of the Red Panda. We spoke to its Director and Head Naturalist Shantanu Prasad to find out about his work and how the visitors who come to Habres Nest contribute to sustainable change.

HAbres Nest

ECT: Tell us a bit about your incredible location

SP: We are in a two-house hamlet called Kaiakata, on the Nepal/Indian border in the Singalila National Park. The Park is on the Singalila Ridge, 7,000 – 12,000 feet above sea level. The view from the top of Sandakphu is mesmerising: it is the only place in the whole world where you can see the four highest peaks of the Himalayas – Everest, Makalu, Kanchenjunga, and Lhotse - in a single frame. The forest, one of the most exotic Himalayan habitats, is a broad-leaved mountain rain forest, dominated by oak, maple, magnolia, deciduous hardwoods, around 39 varieties of rhododendron, over 650 types of orchid, and a thick bamboo understory.

ECT: Which leads us to the Red Pandas!

SP: Yes, the Red Panda loves to eat bamboo! This is one of the best places in the world for the Wild Red Pandas that science has exposed. In 2004, scientists were looking for places where they could release zoo born Red Pandas into the wild to see whether they could survive in places where Red Panda already existed and Singalila was one of them. The first ever rewilding program of zoo bred Red Panda happened here. We estimate that there are 32 Red Panda within the limits of Singalila and we are located right in the middle – we have 8 to 10 Red Pandas around the house.

Red Pandas at Habres Nest

ECT: Habres Nest was set up to protect this population. How do you do that?

SP: Habres Nest is a sustainable tourism model, which means all the people employed here are from the villages and 20% of our profits goes straight back into conservation projects. These projects include daily forest patrolling to keep the poachers away, vaccination and eradication of feral dogs – 20% of the Red Panda population is attacked or infected by feral dogs each year, a free medical camp for the villagers, and awareness and training programs.

ECT: So how do the people who come to stay contribute to your work?

SP: Every guest who visits is taking part in conservation by helping to raise money. Also, we always photograph the Red Panda when we take guests into the jungle and those pictures are used in studies into the numbers of Red Panda, so they are contributing towards research too.

ECT: The forest you are helping to protect is also home to lots of other wildlife. What other creatures live here?

SP: We have Himalayan Black bear, Clouded Leopard, Leopard, Leopard Cat, Himalayan Serow, Barking Deer, Yellow-throated Marten, Wild Boar, Pangolin, and Pika. And this is a Birding Paradise too – one of the best in the world. More than 300 species of birds have been recorded here, including exotic birds like Blood Pheasant, Satyr Tragopan, Kalij Pheasant, Brown, and Fulvous Parrotbills.

Himalayan forest birds

ECT: Staying at the house is special experience in itself.

SP: Yes, Habres Nest was built by local people in the authentic Nepali way – with modern comforts - so that guests get a true flavour of a local homestay. It is home to the 15-20 people who work here, which means our guests are part of a villager’s home and experience their life. The food is authentic too – that means it’s both Nepalese and Indian, influenced by Tibet and Bengal. And to drink, we have a very exclusive local liqueur made from rhododendron which we give to our guests for free. 

HAbres Nest interior

ECT: Can you give us three fascinating facts about the Red Panda?

SP: Red Pandas eat around 20,000 bamboo leaves a day.

Like reptiles, Red Panda taste the air to sense danger

Today there are only around 2,500 Red Panda left in the wild, but the population in Singalila is improving.

Red Panda Habres Nest India