Red Pandas in the Sichuan Mountains

17th - 19th November 2016

A pair of Red Pandas (Ailurus fulgens) in a tree

Sichuan Province is located in the south-west of China with a generally warm damp climate. The eastern half consists of densely populated fertile plains but to the north and west lies the extensive Hengduan Mountain range leading up to the Tibetan Plateau... one of the few remaining places where Red Panda survive in the wild. With the help of Sid Francis( and my guide ZZ, I spent three facinating days exploring the remote Labahe National Park high up in the mountains in search of these wonderful creatures.

To get to Labahe National Park inovlved a five-hour drive west from the city of Chengdu with the last 50km winding through stunning mountain scenery punctuated by periodic enormous building projects for the new highway being constructed through the region.

As we approached the park we encountered a troupe of about 30 Tibetan Macaques feeding on the roadside seeds and berries, although the youngster below seemed more interested in playing in the trees.
Adult Tibetan Macaque (Macaca thibetana) Immature Tibetan Macaque (Macaca thibetana)

Once we reached the park itself there was quite a bit of building work going on at the lower levels, including around the area ZZ had seen Red Panda in the past. It didn't look promising, but I set off on foot to explore further up the mountain away from the disturbance. Like their larger namesake, Red Pandas feed mainly on bamboo but in the autumn they also like to climb to the top of broadleaved trees and gorge themeselsves on berries so that was were I concentrated my search.

There were plenty of berry trees growing out of the dense mountain bamboo... perfect habitat, but no sign of pandas. I did start to see some interesting bird life though. Never large numbers, but interesting mountain species that I hadn't seen before such as Grey-headed Bullfinch and Rufous-breasted Accentor.

Grey-headed Bullfinch (Pyrrhula erythaca) Rufous-breasted Accentor (Prunella strophiata)

Black-browed Tit (Aegithalos bonvaloti) Elliot's Laughingthrush (Trochalopteron elliotii)
Above: Grey-headed Bullfinch (Pyrrhula erythaca)  and   Rufous-breasted Accentor (Prunella strophiata)
Below: Black-browed Tit (Aegithalos bonvaloti)  and  Elliot's Laughingthrush (Trochalopteron elliotii)

As the day wore on, I started to lose heart, wondering whether the building work had frightened the pandas away completely. From my vantage point high up on the mountainside I was able to scan large areas of suitable habitat but to no avail. Then finally, as dusk was falling I spotted a furry red ball in the top of a fruit tree. I'd found my first Red Panda and shortly afterwards, ZZ spotted another and I could start taking photos in the soft evening light.

I spent the next two days trekking around the park searching for pandas and photographing the various birds and Sambar Deer I came across on the way. I made a total of 9 panda sightings in 3 days lasting on average about 20 minutes each and involving 4 different individual Pandas. They spent most of the day hidding in the dense bamboo thicket, climbing the fruit trees to feed and then descending again when they'd have their fill. The highlight was on the last evening when two emerged and spent 20 minutes feeding together.

Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens) Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens)

Close-up of a Red Pandas (Ailurus fulgens)

Thanks to Sid Francis of Sichuan Birding ( for arranging my visit. This is my second photography trip with Sid and ZZ and I have another booked in a couple of months time. I don't believe there's a better way to see rare chinese wildlife and I'd strongly recommend Sid to anyone interested exploring remote regions of this facinating country.

Overall Trip Species Lists

Bird Species

Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanaus)
Grey-headed Bullfinch (Pyrrhula erythaca)
Rufous-breasted Accentor (Prunella strophiata)
Large-billed Crow (Corvus macrorhynchos)
Lady Amherst's Pheasant(Chrysolophus amherstiae)
Darjeeling Woodpecker (Dendrocopos darjellensis)
Spotted Nutcracker (Nucifraga caryocatactes)
Black-browed Tit (Aegithalos bonvaloti)
Elliot's Laughingthrush (Trochalopteron elliotii)
Black-faced Laughingthrush (Garrulax affinis)
Plumbeous Water Redstart (Rhyacornis fuliginosus)
White-capped Water Restart (Chaimarronrnis leucocephalus)
Little Forktail (Enicurus scouleri)
Eurasian Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes)

White-collared Yuhina (Yuhina diademata)
Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla)
Vivid Niltava (Niltava vivida)
Goldcrest (Regulus regulus)
Grey-hooded Fulvetta (Fulvetta cinereiceps)
Chestnut Thrush (Turdus rubrocanus)
White-throated Dipper (Cinclus cinclus)

Mammal Species

Sambar Deer (Rusa unicolor)
Chinese Goral (Nemorhaedus griseus)
Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens)
Yellow-throated Marten (Martes flavigula)
Tibetan Macaque (Macaca thibetana)