Cute red pandas sleeping on a tree branch Red pandas have perfected the art of down time. (All photos: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

Lofty, lazy living

A pair of red pandas settle in for a nap on a log suspended in the air on June 24 inside their enclosure at the Beijing Zoo in China.

Despite their name and taste for bamboo, these rusty, cat-sized creatures are more closely related to raccoons than giant pandas. However, even that connection is quite distant — their common ancestor roamed Eurasia tens of thousands of years ago. Because they have no close living relatives today and their nearest fossil ancestors lived and went extinct 3-4 million years ago, they are considered a living fossil.

Native to the temperate forests of southwestern China and the eastern Himalayas, the species is listed as "Vulnerable" by the IUCN as a result of habitat loss, inbreeding, poaching and fragmentation. The population currently stands at about 10,000 individuals in the wild, and population remains on a decline even with national protection laws.

Red panda with its tongue stuck out

Red panda sleeping on a high tree branch

Related on MNN:

Catie Leary ( @catieleary ) writes about science, travel, animals and the arts.

Red pandas excel in the art of leisure
Despite their name and taste for bamboo, these rusty, cat-sized creatures are more closely related to raccoons than giant pandas.