Too cute. So cute in fact that it won "World's Cutest Animal" in a contest held by the Houston Zoo. Just look at this entire photo gallery. Seriously.
Red Pandas were long though to be members of both the bear and raccoon families, but they are in fact the solo member of their very own taxonomic family, Ailuridae. This family in turn is a part of the super family Musteloidea, home to skunks, weasels, raccoons and otters, though nucleotide testing has shown that they are not especially close with any of those guys. Like the Tuatara, Red Pandas are considered by some to be living fossils. Their nearest fossil ancestors existed 3-4 million years ago and nothing else that is especially genetically similar to them still exists. It has been proposed that the red panda has existed for so long due to its remote habitat and solitary lifestyle. Members of the extinct Parailurus genus, one of the aforementioned fossil relatives, had a much larger habitat range, found in Europe, Asia, and North America.
|Sleeping at the Milwaukee County Zoo|
Red Pandas are a threatened species, with their numbers dwindling due to human encroachment, hunting, and deforestation. Conservations efforts have been made in many of their natural countries, and unlike those poor Giant Pandas, they seem to do very well breeding in captivity. And if you'd like to help out these absurdly cute little muppets, you can even "adopt" one!