Six endangered red pandas were rescued from smugglers in Laos on Thursday.
The pandas had been captured in China and then smuggled into Laos my marching them over an undefended part of the border, according to Laotian officials. Once inside Laos, they were taken to a waiting van for transportation.
As in most countries, transporting wildlife across national boundaries is extremely illegal. Those caught smuggling face long jail sentences.
Laotian authorities caught the van not too far from the border where discovered the six pandas. The driver said he didn’t know where the pandas came from or where their ultimate destination was. He was arrested and charged with wildlife trafficking.
The pandas were then given to Free The Bears, an Australian wildlife-protection agency that has been operating in Laos since 2003. A brief inspection revealed that three of the pandas were critically ill, so they were rushed to Luang Prabang Wildlife Sanctuary for emergency treatment.
Unfortunately, the three ill pandas died. Michelle Walhout Tanneau, a veterinary nurse and operations manager for Free the Bears, believes their deaths were the result of the horrible conditions they were kept in.
"There is a high possibility these animals were suffering from serious disease due to the stress they suffered as well as potential exposure to infectious disease," she said.
Luckily, the three remaining pandas recovered from their ordeal and are eating well, according to Free the Bears.
Free the Bears regional communications manager Rod Mabin said this may be the largest red panda smuggling bust in history. "To our knowledge, this is the single largest seizure of live red pandas ever recorded anywhere in the world.”
Red pandas are a critically endangered species. It is believed that less than 10,000 individuals remain in the wild, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates that red panda populations have declined by 50 percent since 2000.
Habitat loss and poaching are the red pandas largest threats to survival.