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Red Pandas Captured in Laos Pointing to Illegal Pet Trade

The exotic pet trade is putting the survival of several species at risk, and the red panda might be next.

Customs officials in Laos recently conducted the largest red panda rescue to date during a random vehicle search 10 miles from the Chinese border. Six red pandas were found in separate kennels, and the driver was arrested. Rod Mabin, regional communication director for Australia-based Free the Bears, assisted with the rescue and suspects the animals were on their way to a large hub for illegal pet trade in Thailand.

When discovered, three of the red pandas were found to be extremely ill. They were shaking in their crates, and despite efforts to save them, they soon died. The remaining three were transported to a Free the Bears sanctuary in Luang Prabang. They received necessary medical care, and they'll stay at the sanctuary indefinitely.

About the size of an average house cat, red pandas are adored for their cute faces and small stature. The recent incident is the first time red pandas have been seized in Laos, and it represents a growing threat to the species. The illegal exotic pet trade is already full of parrots, primates, snakes, and even big cats, but until now, red pandas weren't a particular commodity. A recent popularity increase, however, has wildlife officials worried for the future.

The Internet is full of adorable videos and pictures of red pandas looking like harmless animals. Their big eyes, expressive faces, and goofy personalities make people think they're perfect pets, but in reality, they're anything but domestic. Youngsters can sometimes be convinced to like the human that's holding them, but their tameness is short-lived. Red pandas are aggressive toward other adults of their species and humans, too. They eat huge amounts of food for their small size and can poop their own body weight in one week.

Red pandas are officially protected from poaching and capture by local laws that ban their sale across borders. Without strict enforcement, however, officials are finding their hides scattered across Asia. The animals that don't die during capture and aren't killed for their fur end up in cages being sold to people who have no idea how to take care of them. The rescue of the red pandas in Laos saved three innocent lives, but it's also a troubling glimpse into a potentially devastating future for the species in general.

What do you think about the future of the red panda? Let us know in the comments.

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