Heartbreaking Red Panda Rescue Raises Concerns About the Illegal Pet Trade

Red pandas are unquestionably adorable, but unfortunately that could be causing them problems. A recent rescue has raised concerns that their cuteness is making them vulnerable in the illegal pet trade.

In January, a random inspection of a vehicle by customs officials in Laos led to the discovery of six red pandas near the Chinese border.

The incident marks the first time red pandas have been seized in Laos, and it’s believed to be the largest red panda rescue there to date.

After they were seized, Free the Bears was contacted to help. The organization brought them to its Luang Prabang Wildlife Sanctuary in northern Laos. Tragically, three of them were in very poor condition when they were found. Despite emergency veterinary intervention, two of them died within hours of being rescued, and a third passed away the following day.

Watch our HISTORIC RED PANDA RESCUE – share & help spread the word about the illegal wildlife trade. Please consider a…

Posted by Free the Bears Fund on Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The individuals who were caught with these red pandas were arrested, and although they claimed not to know where they were ultimately headed, rescuers and officials suspect they were destined for the exotic pet trade.

Now, their advocates fear that people sharing cute images and footage on social media could make them increasingly targeted for the illegal pet trade.

“There hasn’t been much record of live red panda seizures,” Rod Mabin, regional communication director for Free the Bears, told National Geographic. “This is a worrying indication that they are becoming a desired species.”

That would be a major problem for red pandas. There are believed to be fewer than 10,000 individuals left in the wild, who are now classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. They’ve declined by more than 50 percent over just the past two decades, and their population is expected to continue to decrease rapidly over the coming years.

They continue to suffer from habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation, diseases like canine distemper, and although they’re protected, in theory, they’re still being poached for their meat and skins. An increasing demand for them will only compound those threats and cause immeasurable suffering to red pandas who become victims.

While the three survivors are doing well, this case is a heartbreaking reminder about the true price being paid by wild animals who we think we want as pets.

In response, rescuers and others are reminding people that red pandas are wild animals, who also make terrible pets.

Free the Bears added in an update, “Red pandas may look cute but they are NOT pets. You definitely wouldn’t want one – unfriendly, difficult to keep & poop their body weight each week! Leave them in the wild where they belong.”

For more updates on the three survivors and ways to help, check out Free the Bears.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Marie W
Marie W2 months ago

thanks for sharing

heather g
heather g8 months ago

That's why proper education and justice for animals is so imperative.

Angela J
Angela J8 months ago


Cindy M. D
Cindy M. D8 months ago

No animal should suffer because they are "cute" - the humans that run exotic pet trades should suffer - IN JAIL!!!!

ANA MARIJA R8 months ago

... and thank You, Free the Bears💕

ANA MARIJA R8 months ago

“Red pandas may look cute but they are NOT pets. You definitely wouldn’t want one – unfriendly, difficult to keep & poop their body weight each week! Leave them in the wild where they belong.”
Leave All The Wild Animals where they belong!

Janet B
Janet B8 months ago


Loredana V
Loredana V8 months ago

Some people don't deserve to live on Earth, they are heartless criminals

Arlene C
Arlene C8 months ago

Merci Alicia

Kalliope M
Past Member 8 months ago

People get more and more selfish and degenerate - always want the most exotic and exiting things without any concerns, without thinking and without any consideration - really very atrocious and sad. They open the doors for even more wildlife trafficking with their doings, without having any compassion for the animals. It is already bad enough that many buy other pets without being able to meet their real requirements and create fitting living conditions for them; this is especially required when it comes to exotic animals and needs to be stopped.