What Animal is Master Shifu?

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Master Shifu, the character voiced by Dustin Hoffman in the Kung Fu Panda franchise, is one of the main supporting characters in the series. Master Shifu was the senior master of the Jade Palace and a Kung Fu teacher and trainer to many kung fu warriors including Po (the Dragon Warrior), Tai Lung, and the Furious Five.

Right after the release of the original Kung Fu Panda film, a lot of comments from viewers showed a confusion about what type of animal Master Shifu was. While some correctly guessed the animal, a large number of viewers innocently mistook it for a raccoon as it bears many similarities to it. A few others assumed the character was either a tiny wolf, a lemur, or a type of rodent.

If you’ve watched the Kung Fu Panda series, you might also be unaware what type of animal is master shifu, so let’s clear up the confusion.

What Animal is Shifu?

The character is neither a raccoon nor a tiny wolf.
Master Shifu is a Red Panda. 

Master Shifu from Kung Fu Panda Movie is a Red Panda
Master Shifu is a Red Panda

Surprised? You might be! Given that the only well known panda is the black and white Giant Panda, this may come as a surprise to many. 

And despite its name, you’ll be even more shocked to know that the small animal is not even remotely related to the giant panda.

That said, let’s discuss Master Shifu’s character in Kung Fu Panda a little bit.

Master Shifu’s Character in Kung Fu Panda

Master Shifu was a former student of Master Oogway, after which he became an incredibly skilled kung fu master.

He found himself in the Jade Palace after his father, a con artist known as Shirong, abandoned him there. He would later on in life adopt Tai Lung, a little cub who showed up in the palace and to whom he dedicated his life to be a loving father and teacher.

He kept hoping that Tai would end up becoming the legendary Dragon Warrior.

But after Tai’s betrayal, Master Shifu became strict, somewhat heartless, and even distant. Angry but focused, he went on to train Mantis, Monkey, Tigress, Crane, and Viper (the Furious Five). However, none of his students was selected to become the Dragon Warrior by Master Oogway and was angry when Po, a much less skilled warrior, was chosen.

Master Shifu

Furious and bitter, Master Shifu was determined to show that Po didn’t have what it took to become the Dragon Warrior by punishing him through tough “exercises.” He believed that the giant panda would eventually give up and quit due to the immense pressure and stress. However, Po became even more determined, which made Shifu even more spiteful. However, seeing his effort and determination and realizing that Po was their only hope in defeating the now devious and evil Tai Lung, Master Shifu decided to become a more loving and devoted teacher to Po. His change of heart and attitude towards Po eventually made him loosen up and become more peaceful, relaxed, and happy.

Master Shifu is often seen wearing a reddish-burgundy robe with a brown-colored sash. In Kung Fu Panda 2 and 3, he wears a jade green shawl that is enclosed by a golden clasp with an insignia on the back side. In Kung Fu Panda Holiday, Shifu is seen wearing a silver-colored shawl with some faint snowflakes integrated into it.

What You Need to Know about the Red Panda

Now that you’re aware that Master Shifu is actually a red panda, it’s time to learn a little bit about this rare animal that a lot of people don’t know about.

A red panda (scientific name: Ailurus fulgens) is a mammal species that is native to Eastern Himalayas and Southwestern China. With an estimated wild population of less than 10,000 which continues to decline due to factors like poaching, loss of habitat and fragmentation, as well as inbreeding depression, the red panda is now listed as an Endangered species on the IUCN Red List. 

A Red Panda sitting in its home

Despite having the name “panda”, a lot of people are often surprised to know that the small animal is not even closely related to the giant panda. The red panda has previously been placed in the bear and raccoon families. However, the results of phylogenetic analysis refute this and instead support its taxonomic classification in its own family, Ailuridae. It’s actually the only living member of the genus Ailurus and the family Ailuridae.

Although research has previously indicated that the red panda consists of two subspecies, genetic analysis indicates that there are actually two distinct red panda species. These include the Chinese red panda and the Himalayan red panda, both of which are thought to have genetically diverged approximately 0.22 million years ago. 

Physical Characteristics

The red panda is quite small- its size is almost similar to that of a domestic cat. It’s characterized by reddish-brown fur and a long furry tail. It is also distinguished by its waddling gait due to its shorter front legs. These physical characteristics have earned it several names including the red bear-cat, lesser panda, and red bear-cat.

It’s a solitary animal that is largely sedentary during the day but active from dusk to dawn. The red panda’s main diet is bamboo, but it will also regularly feed on insects, eggs, fruits, and birds. It also climbs trees. 

Red pandas usually start reproducing at around 18 months of age. The gestation period is usually between 112 -158 days, after which the female panda gives birth to one to four blind and deaf cubs.

A red panda’s life span ranges between 8 to 10 years, although a few have been known to live for up to 15 years.

Bottom Line

Interestingly, during an interview with TODAY, Dustin Hoffman himself, the voice behind the Master Shifu character, was not sure what species his own character was. Like many people, Hoffman thought that Master Shifu was a raccoon.

It’s easy to see why people would confuse the red panda for a raccoon. The resemblance is uncanny, especially the facial features. All in all, you now understand what animal Master Shifu is and hopefully, you can now educate those close to you who are still confused about it. 

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