'Kung Fu' red pandas settle into new Laos sanctuary

May 11, 2018 by Joe Freeman
The red pandas are coveted for their shiny copper fur and "cute" appearance

Munching on bamboo and lazing under a fan spraying cooling mist, "Jackie Chan" is in a relaxed mood, one of three red pandas once destined for the exotic wildlife trade but now instead settling into a new home in a leafy Laos sanctuary.

The three animals, nicknamed Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee and Peace, were among six found stuffed into crates during a random check of a van traveling from China over the border into northern Laos in January.

Dehydrated and lacking food, three died within days, while the survivors were taken to a sanctuary run by the non-profit Free the Bears in the hills around the tourist hotspot of Luang Prabang.

It was "very very hard" to save the three who perished, says Sengaloun Vongsay, Laos programme manager for Free the Bears.

It was the first discovery of in Laos, experts said, fueling fears the endangered species may be the latest targets of the illegal pet industry, coveted for their shiny copper fur and "cute" appearance.

"They're eating well, they're generally pretty relaxed," said Michelle Walhout Tanneau, operations manager for Free the Bears.

Landlocked Laos is a key transit hub in the illegal and lucrative global trade in wildlife, sharing borders with Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and China.

In January Thai authorities arrested Boonchai Bach, a Vietnamese national with Thai citizenship and an alleged kingpin in Asia's , for rhino horn trafficking.

Free the Bears has provided temporary enclosures and set aside a section of tree-covered land for the animals

Boonchai and the Bach family are believed to have operated for years from northeast Thailand bordering Laos, where law enforcement is weak and corruption widespread.

Freeland, a counter-trafficking organisation that worked with Thai police on his case, on Friday said the 41-year-old Boonchai was this week jailed for two-and-a-half years.

Laos' government did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the red panda seizure, though Free the Bears said that one Chinese national had been arrested over the find.

With their forest habitats under threat, red panda populations in Nepal, Bhutan, India, China and Myanmar are vulnerable.

Free the Bears has provided temporary enclosures and set aside a section of tree-covered land where the red pandas could live in case they could not be released back into the wild.

The two superstar nicknames were given by staff, while "Peace" was chosen by a donor.

Rod Mabin, a spokesman for the non-profit, said the group was consulting with experts and the red pandas would live in the sanctuary for the foreseeable future.

"Ultimately we'll try to make the decision which is best for the future health and safety of the animals and to provide them the best life possible," he said.

Explore further: Red pandas rescued in Laos stir fears over exotic pet trade

Related Stories

Laos failing to curb illegal wildlife trade: monitor

September 23, 2016

The illegal trade in pangolins, helmeted hornbills and other wildlife products is thriving in Laos, a monitoring group said Friday, urging the Southeast Asian nation to crack down on a lucrative commerce largely fuelled by ...

Five tiger cubs seized in Thai police wildlife haul

February 20, 2014

Thai police said Thursday they have seized five wild tiger cubs along with hundreds of other animals being smuggled to neighbouring Laos, for apparent onward sale in Vietnam or China as delicacies.

Thai customs make new three-tonne ivory seizure

April 27, 2015

More than three tonnes of elephant ivory have been found at a Thai port stashed in a container shipped from Kenya, customs said Monday, the second huge haul of tusks from Africa in less than a week.

Recommended for you

Coffee-based colloids for direct solar absorption

March 22, 2019

Solar energy is one of the most promising resources to help reduce fossil fuel consumption and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to power a sustainable future. Devices presently in use to convert solar energy into thermal ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.