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GPS Technology: Scientists find Giant pandas aren't loners at all

By Megan Hamilton     Mar 29, 2015 in Environment
Scientists have long held the belief that giant pandas keep to themselves and are loners in the wild, but a team of researchers from Michigan State University have published a finding that indicates that pandas are actually quite social in the wild.
The scientists observed five groups of pandas and tracked them with GPS technology in the Wolong Nature Reserve in southwestern China between 2010 and 2012. The researchers observed that even in the wild, pandas keep up family ties, even though they still isolate themselves from time to time, the Dispatch Times reports.
"Pandas are such an elusive species and it really is extremely tough to observe them in wild, so we have not had a good image of where they are from one day to the subsequent," said Vanessa Hull, an analysis associate at MSU's Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability (CSIS).
"Once we got all the information in the computer system we could see where they go and map it," Hull said. "It was so fascinating to sit down and watch their whole year unfold just before you like a tiny window into their world."
The study involved five giant pandas--three adult females (named Pan Pan, Mei Mei, and Zhong Zhong), a young female named Long Long and a male named Chuan Chuan. The bears were captured, collared, and tracked from 2010-2012, reports.
What surprised the scientists the most is how much the pandas seemed to like hanging around together. Three of the pandas in the group spent time together in the same parts of the forest for several weeks in a row.
Chuan Chuan especially seemed to like spending time around the females, even outside of the typical spring mating season, Science Times reports. This surprised the scientists and challenged current ideas regarding what we really know about these elusive creatures.
That wasn't all that the scientists learned. The bamboo-loving bears, it seems, can remember a good dining experience and will return to the same spot after a fairly long time period – a half year, for instance, reports.
"They pretty much sit down and eat their way out of an area, but then need to move on to the next place," Hull said.
This study made huge strides in conservation research because the entire study was fully supported due to rare GPS tracking collars which are usually banned by the Chinese government. For more than a decade, the government has banned the use of GPS collars on the endangered bears, but for this study, it allowed the researchers to track the animals' movements for a couple of years. In so doing, this allowed the study of pandas to reach new heights that even the researchers hadn't anticipated, Science Times reports.
While giant panda numbers are increasing, as this Digital Journal article points out, they still face grave risks of extinction in some parts of their territory, especially in the southern Minshan and Daxiangling mountains.
An earlier survey, carried out by the Chinese government between 1998-2002, found that there were only 1,596 pandas in the wild, Science Times reports.
More about gps technology, giant pandas, Scientists, Michigan state university, vanessa hull
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