It's the sort of news that should bring a smile to your face: a rare species that also ranks high on the cuteness scale is caught on camera in a new location for the very first time. But this Flora & Fauna International (FFI) footage of two adorable red pandas ambling up a rock-strewn slope in the forests of Myanmar has left field biologists with mixed emotions – because it also shows the grim scale of habitat destruction in the region. 

“When we encountered the two red pandas, we felt two emotions at the same time; incredibly happy for the direct sighting and for obtaining this first exciting footage, but terribly saddened seeing the state of their habitat and threats to the survival [of the species],” said Saw Soe Aung, the FFI field biologist who captured the couple on film.

The panda duo was filmed in the north-east of the country in the Imawbum mountain range, an area covered by mixed bamboo and conifer forests. But instead of a lush and leafy landscape, the pandas are surrounded by piles of rock – the aftermath of a forest-flattening landslide caused by illegal logging nearby.  

While red pandas (Ailurus fulgens) are considered rare in some parts of their range (total population numbers are estimated at fewer than 10,000 mature individuals), the Imawbum region seems to be a panda hotspot – for now. The FFI is concerned that Chinese logging companies are decimating the area's fragile alpine habitats, driving out threatened species and opening up access roads for hunting and wildlife trade fuelled by Chinese demand.

The organisation is now backing efforts to establish a new a protected area – the Imawbum National Park – in the region, a move that would give the red pandas better protection.  

“We hope that the National Park designation combined with Myanmar’s recent raw log export ban will encourage the Chinese government to stop loggers venturing into Myanmar,” said Frank Momberg, FFI’s Myanmar programme director. 

Top header image: Kenneth Barrett, Flickr