Year of the Red Panda

Believe it or not, the top animal of 2011 wasn’t a crafty YouTube cat or a dog that says “I love you.” According to Google Zeitgeist, rare animals took center stage this year. The red panda, the relative of the raccoon, was Google’s top searched rare animal of 2011.

The red panda has been overshadowed by the popularity of its cousin, the giant panda. Because of the red panda’s shy nature, the number of wild red pandas is hard to calculate. These adorable animals, which are the size of large house cats, live in the secluded mountains of Nepal, Myanmar, and central China. Due to deforestation and hunting, the red panda is an endangered species with a 2008 conservation status of “vulnerable.”

So what caused the surge of the red panda’s popularity?

Red pandas have a low birth rate and high death rate, but this year zoos around the world reported numerous births like the two red pandas that were born at Boston’s Franklin Park Zoo. Then there’s Sir Ed’s headlining courtship with Jasmina in June. The red panda, Sir Ed, traveled the world (from New Zealand to England) “looking for love” which was actually a part of the breeding program to “diverse the red panda gene pool” at zoos around the globe.

The Red Panda Network has also spread the buzz about these adorable creatures. This year they announced the second annual International Red Panda Day on September 17th. The RPN partnered with zoos across the world including some in the USA, Germany, Spain, and Canada to raise money and awareness for the red pandas. The 2011 release of Kung Fu Panda 2, with Dustin Hoffman voicing the red panda Master Shifu, definitely helped, too.

What were the other top searched rare animals of 2011? The ocelot, which resembles a small leopard, came in second. The tapir which resembles a pig, and the bald eagle took third and fourth place. And rounding out the top five was the red panda’s cousin, the giant panda.