Not much is known about wild pandas owing to the fact that they are very rare and live in almost unreachable parts of forests. In order to find out more about their life Vanessa Hull of Michigan State University together with her colleagues were allowed to attach GPS tracking collars to five pandas belonging to the Wolong National Nature Reserve (China). The devices transmitted the position of every animal for two years.
The Chinese government banned GPS tracking of pandas for almost a decade. This was done in order to protect the endangered species. Some pandas were tracked in previous research, but this is the first time technology has offered detailed information about panda movement and interaction. The findings were published in the Journal of Mammalogy.
Vanessa Hull said that pandas are so rare that it is very hard to observe their behavior in the wild. Jindong Zhang, the co-author of the study added that this was a great opportunity to get a look at the secretive society of pandas which has been kept hidden for them in the past.
The tagged pandas were three female adults (Mei Mei, Zhong Zhong and Pan Pan), a young female called Long Long and a male, Chuan Chuan. The collars transmitted information about the position of the bears every four hours. Contradicting the belief according to which pandas are solitary creatures, the study showed that the home ranges of the individual animals overlapped several times. Two of the pandas spent several weeks close to each other. Hull explained that this occurred in autumn, not in spring (the mating season) so the fact that they stay together does not suggest mating behavior, but simply direct interaction. The male also was noticed to have traveled over a wider range than the females had. This means that he was making his presence noticeable to all the available mates.
The researchers also observed the feeding strategy of the pandas. They had between 20 to 30 core areas where they fed. Once they had finished eating one patch of bamboo, they moved on to the next one. However, after long periods of time – up to 6 months – they returned to the same areas. This proves that they remembered the feeding locations and anticipating the regrowth they return to the same place.
This experiment is just the beginning. Hull hopes that the Chinese government will appreciate how valuable this study was and encourage more of it in the future.
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