Munching on bamboo and lazing under a fan spraying cooling mist, “Jackie Chan” is in a relaxed mood, one of three red pandas once destined for the exotic wildlife trade but now instead settling into a new home in a leafy Laos sanctuary.
The three animals, nicknamed Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee and Peace, were among six found stuffed into crates during a random check of a van traveling from China over the border into northern Laos in January.
Dehydrated and lacking food, three died within days, while the survivors were taken to a sanctuary run by the non-profit Free the Bears in the hills around the tourist hotspot of Luang Prabang.
It was “very very hard” to save the three who perished, says Sengaloun Vongsay, Laos programme manager for Free the Bears.
It was the first discovery of red pandas in Laos, experts said, fueling fears the endangered species may be the latest targets of the illegal pet industry, coveted for their shiny copper fur and “cute”appearance.
“They’re eating well, they’re generally pretty relaxed,” said Michelle Walhout Tanneau, operations manager for Free the Bears.
With their forest habitats under threat, red panda populations in Nepal, Bhutan, India, China and Myanmar are vulnerable.
Free the Bears has provided temporary enclosures and set aside a section of tree-covered land where the red pandas could live in case they could not be released back into the wild.
The two superstar nicknames were given by staff, while “Peace” was chosen by a donor.
Discussions are ongoing over where the creatures will live once fully recovered.
"Whether that is at the sanctuary in Laos or in the wild in China is yet to be determined," Free the Bears spokeman, Rod Mabin.