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. Panda Population Far Higher Than Expected Scientists

The giant panda is one of the world's most elusive and endangered species.
by Staff Writers
London (AFP) Jun 20, 2006
Scientists predicted Tuesday that there were many more giant pandas than previously thought, following a novel study examining the DNA of their faeces.

The experts, who used new "non-invasive" methods for counting wild animal numbers to re-examine panda population estimates, said the new method provided an accurate population profile.

The scientists published their results in the international journal Current Biology. The team was led by Professor Michael Bruford of the Cardiff School of Biosciences and Professor Fuwen Wei of the Institute of Zoology, the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The giant panda is one of the world's most elusive and endangered species.

The traditional way to estimate panda populations is to examine the faeces for the length of bamboo it contained, Bruford told Britain's domestic Press Association news agency.

Experts would then guess the panda's age and estimate how many different pandas the faeces had come from.

"Without DNA profiling you are bound to under-estimate," Bruford said.

His team surveyed 10 square miles (26 square kilometres) of a Chinese reserve.

"We really combed the reserve. There were teams of people in a field walking in a line," the professor said.

It was previously thought that 27 giant pandas lived there. But Buford's team now reckons there are 66.

He predicted that the results would be replicated in other panda reserves.

"Our results found that previous surveys underestimated the population by more than 50 percent," said Bruford.

"These findings indicate that the species has a much better chance of long-term viability, although we must not become complacent, since the population size is still perilously low."

He warned: "We still may be only talking about a few thousand individuals. These guys are not common."

Giant pandas' traditional homes have been the mountains of central and southern China, as well as Myanmar and Vietnam.

But their numbers have fallen to only around 1,590, according to Chinese estimates, as their natural habitats have been destroyed by humans.

China founded its first nature reserve for giant pandas in the 1950s and now has 56 nature reserves for them, according to the Xinhua news agency.

It also has 183 giant pandas in captivity, while others have been sent to zoos around the world.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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