Transcript for Red Panda's Plight: Cute and Endangered
Well, now we're going to introduce you to one of the most adorable creatures in the world. And, one of the most endangered. But why the red panda is disappearing is a mystery, with clues that stretch from tennessee to the himalayan mountains which is where abc's dan harris takes us "into the wild." Reporter: When the children press their noses up to the glass, captivated by these adorable exotic little red panda cubs, they are staring into the face of a mystery. Why is this animal, which once roamed vast regions of the earth, now on the brink of extinction and could the answer save these creatures before they're gone forever? Our search for clues took us to the other side of the world, to the small sliver of the planet where red pandas can still be found in the wild. These are the foothills of the himalayan mountains, in understoodindia. This city is best known for growing some of the world's finest tea. What's up, guys? What's going on? But even though this is the red panda's natural habitat, a zoo is still the best chance to see one face to face. It's very elusive animal. You don't see it in the wild. It's very rare. Reporter: This is one of the most successful red panda breeding centers in the world. They teamed up a male and a female, hoping they'll make a love connection. And maybe some day those offspring can be returned to the wild. But even if this particular matchmaking attempt is successful, zoo cooper keepers here are very worried about what they call the red panda curse. They look right at you. Yes, because of this cute-looking face and loving nature, hundreds of animals have been taken overseas. Reporter: So they are cursed by their good looks. Yes, yes. Reporter: Here comes one. In fact, when these animals were first discovered in the early 1800ed, a full 50 years before the giant black and white panda, by the way. They were a must-have accessory of the victorian age. Yeah, urn fortunately, you can see why people would want them as a pet. As far as we know, the only place the red panda lives in the wild is here in the region around the himalayan mountains. However, recently, and for reasons that scientists do not fully understand yet, evidence of the red panda has surfaced in a very surprising place. Here, in the foothills of another mountain range, the blue ridge mountains of tennessee. Needless to say, I was not expecting a red panda. Reporter: Stephen wallace and his team here at the gray fossil site have unearthed pot bellied rhinos, but nothing prepared them for a single tooth that was dug up several years ago. This is the best sample of fossil red panda anywhere. Reporter: It's the shape and size of that tooth that lippings this 4 to 7 million-year-old red panda to the ones living a world away. They were much more widespread. Reporter: Wallace says the tennessee red panda was probably about the size of a mountain lion and thrived in the thick forests once found here. So, why did they disappear? One theory, raccoons moved in and started competing for the same food. Understanding why fossil red pandas were so much more successful and widespread than pandas today can be beneficial to protecting them and ensuring they'll be here for future generations. They're pretty curious. Yes. Reporter: But back in the himalayan foothills, red pandas face threats more urgent than evolution or natural selection. Poachers can get a lot of money for selling red panda body parts. And in some parts of china, these tails are even considered good luck charms for wedding ceremonies. The luck of the red panda is running out fast. Conversationists believe there are less than 10,000 left in the wild. Which makes the match-making happening in this cage in india even more critical. As this adorable creature, haunted by its good looks, fights for its very survival. For "nightline," this is dan harris in end iindia. Thanks for dan harris for
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