Intimate details about the lives of the giant panda have been largely unknown until now. New research by American and Chinese teams have yielded valuable new insight on how these mammals interact with each other and the wild. CCTV America’s Jim Spellman reported this story from Washington, D.C.
Studying giant pandas is anything but easy. There are only about 1,800 of the elusive mammals in the wild, most of them confined to about 21,000 square kilometers in southwestern China, with the remaining scattered in zoos across the world.
Pandas like the ones here at the National Zoo in Washington are huge attractions, but until now little has been known about how they spend their time in the wild. A new study is revealing how pandas travel, feed and interact with other pandas.
Researchers gathered findings after fitting five pandas in the Wolong Nature Reserve in Southwest China’s Sichuan province with GPS collars and tracked their movements for two years.
The research was conducted by Michigan State University in the United States, working with researchers at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda in Sichuan.
Pandas around the world, outside of China
Source: Giantpandazoo.com, National Zoo, Memphis Zoo, Zoo Atlanta, San Diego Zoo.
“Pandas are really interesting in the sense that they’re very secretive. They don’t like people and they live in these habitats that are very secluded and remote and also the vegetation in their habitat is very dense,” Michigan State University researcher Vanessa Hull said. “So when we got this unique opportunity to get some GPS collars and put them on wild pandas, it was just so excited to say that we’d be able to follow them around remotely.”
Researchers were surprised to find that pandas are not the solitary creatures previously thought. The pandas studied often spent time close to other pandas.
“We like to think of them as being in their own little world. They’re own little bamboo path. But in reality, they’re very much paying attention to what their neighbors are doing and even interacting directly,” Hull said.
Their movements are far from random. The study revealed that pandas often return to a feeding area after bamboo, the staple of the panda diet, has a chance to regrow.
“So I think it’s important to think in terms of that just for conservation and recognize that we need to be conserving areas that are large enough for these interactions to happen between pandas,” Hull added.
Conservation efforts have led to a slow growth in panda populations.
Researchers hope this new data will help better understand pandas as they face new challenges from changing habitats, climate change and human interactions.
“How people affect the panda habitat, how panda habitat affect the policies and how panda policy changes will affect people’s behavior and how people behave will affect the panda behavior again, we are focused on these complex interactions. Panda, people and policies,” Jianguo “Jack” Liu, the director of the Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability at Michigan State said.
Panda vs. panda
While there continues to be a large focus on the endangered giant panda, the first “panda” discovered was actually the red panda. This is a totally different species and its existence is also threatened.
Red pandas are more closely related to a raccoon or skunk than the giant panda. While there are fewer than 2,000 giant pandas on the planet, there are fewer than 10,000 red pandas.
Giant pandas are twice the length or height of the red panda, though they weigh nearly 30 times more.
According to a Google Trends, more people search for “panda” than they do “red panda” on Google over the past decade. The data represents the popularity of the search terms relative to all searches on Google over time. They aren’t total search numbers, and the data has been normalized to a scale of 0-100. A score of 100 would indicate high popularity in searching.
Zoo director Jeremy Goodman discusses red panda conservation
CCTV America’s Mike Walter interviewed Jeremy Goodman, the executive director executive director at Roger Williams Park Zoo in the U.S. state of Rhode Island which is participating in the Species Survival Program by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to help save the red panda.
Vote in the CCTV America Panda Awards