Cute red pandas sleeping on a tree branch

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.

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Red panda with its tongue stuck out
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Red panda sleeping on a high tree branch
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Catie Leary is a photo editor at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.