The western world first learned of the giant panda in 1869 when the French missionary Armand David received a skin from a hunter on 11 March 1869. The first living giant panda to be seen outside China was by the German zoologist Hugo Weigold, who purchased a cub in 1916. In 1938, five giant pandas were sent to London, but no more to follow for the next half of the century due to the Second World War and its repercussions.

As the emblem of the WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) and more recently the main character in the hit Kung Fu Panda films, the Giant Panda is among the world's most adored and protected rare animals, and is one of the few in the world whose natural inhabitant status was able to gain a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation.

Where do pandas live?

Giant Pandas are solitary animals confined to the highly fragmented mountain forests found only in remote China. And because a panda’s diet consists mostly of bamboo shoots, pandas are usually found in bamboo rich forests situated 1500 meters above sea level. However, recent research from Chinese Academy of Sciences has managed to find out a whole lot more about where pandas live.

They generally avoid the higher peaks - as bamboo has difficulties growing in the higher altitude, as well as the lower areas which are now dominated by people.

They also tend to limit their movements to high altitude conifer forests and mixed forests, as well as historically clear-felled forest. Why? Because such areas are better for raising their young. Furthermore, female pandas are now known to be selective about the choice of their den sites and often make their dens in stands of large conifer trees more than 200 years old. Furthermore, it also turns out that they prefer habitats that slope at an angle of between 10 and 20 degrees, and abandoned logging trails - though this could be an artefact of the number of roads of this type that crisscross the region. Conversely, male pandas have been found to frequent habitat close to roads used by vehicles, perhaps due to their need to move greater distances to find prospective female mates.

The discovery could inform strategies for conserving wild pandas and releasing them back into the wild.

Dun Wu Qi and Fuwen Wei of the Institute for Zoology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and colleagues studied the movements of giant pandas within the Liangshan Mountains of south central China.

They conducted transect surveys recording the presence of pandas by sight or by their droppings. By studying the DNA in these faecal samples, the researchers were able to determine the sex of the pandas encountered.

That means they are likely to be disproportionately affected by habitat loss and people exploiting the forest.

It should also be taken into account when breeding programmes release giant pandas back into the wild.

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