ANIMAL ART OF THE DAY for International Red Panda Day: Europe’s first image(s)

Happy International Red Panda Day, celebrated annually on the 3rd Saturday of September!

The Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens, which roughly translates to “shining cat”), is a small mammal native to the eastern Himalayas and southwestern China. It is the only extant species of the Ailuridae family, nestled within the “weasel superfamily” Musteloidea, and is currently divided into two subspecies, the Himalayan Red Panda (A. f. fulgens) and the Chinese Red Panda (A. f. styani) (although two recent studies [1][2] suggested they should be treated as separate species — stay tuned for more lumpers versus splitters action on this one). Unfortunately, they are also currently classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, with habitat loss and fragmentation the biggest threat.

For more information on conservation programs and International Red Panda Day activities, check out the Red Panda Network.

Georges-Frédéric Cuvier (French, 1773 – 1838) is credited with publishing the first scientific description and image of the Red Panda in 1825. However, the first image seen in Europe actually dates to c. 1820. It was commissioned from an unknown Indian artist by Thomas Hardwicke (English, 1756-1835), who sent it along with with a written description of the animal from his post in Bengal to the Linnaean Society of London. However, he was not able to formally publish his report until 1827, by which time Cuvier had already published his own and thus got first dibs on naming rights.

(Bonus fun fact – the Red Panda was named “panda” in English first, almost a half-century before the Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) was first formally named!)

Unknown Indian artist, commissioned by Thomas Hardwicke, labeled “Mustela Zebellina? From Nepal,” c. 1820, pencil and watercolor on paper, 38 × 50 cm.
Jean Charles Werner (illustrator) for Frédéric Cuvier, “Panda,” 1825, Plate 52 in Histoire naturelle des mammifères.

Bonus 19th century illustrations:

C. H. Smith (illustrator) and W. H. Lizars (engraver), Plate 17 in The Naturalist’s Library Vol. 15 by William Jardine, 1842.
J. Smit (illustrator) for B. Simpson, 1869, Plate XLI in Proceedings of the Scientific Meetings of the Zoological Society of London
sharing is caring:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

1 × one =