More Pandas in China Than First Thought

The Associated Press
Wednesday, June 21, 2006; 6:18 PM

SHANGHAI, China -- Scientists using DNA samples have doubled their estimates of the wild panda population in a nature sanctuary in China, a finding they say bodes well for the survival of the endangered species.

The researchers believe between 66 and 72 pandas are living in the Wanglang Nature Reserve _ more than twice the previous estimate of 32, said Wei Fumin, a zoologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The scientists arrived at the estimates by taking samples of panda droppings in the reserve and developing genetic profiles, said Wei, who was a member of the research team.

The rising numbers are likely the result of natural population growth, migration from other areas and a logging ban aimed at preserving panda habitat, he said Wednesday.

"We're really seeing these policies start to have an effect," Wei said.

Results of the research, conducted by a joint British-Chinese team, were published in Tuesday's edition of the journal Current Biology.

Despite the rising numbers in Wanglang, Wei said it was too early to say whether similar studies in other preserves would show a higher overall number for China's wild panda population, now estimated at about 1,600.

"There could be other factors at work in different places," he said.

The Worldwide Fund for Nature, which uses a panda in its logo, said the findings were "a positive sign."

"We are thrilled by this new study," said Olivier van Bogaert, spokesman for the Switzerland-based group, known as the World Wildlife Fund in the United States.

He urged continued vigilance. "There are still very low numbers of pandas in the wild. Even if this study might prove that there are more than we thought, the number of pandas is still very low. All the measures that are being taken to protect their habitat need to be enforced and implemented further. Deforestation and habitat loss are still issues that we need to tackle."

Study author Michael Bruford, of Cardiff University in Wales, said the environment at Wanglang wasn't significantly different from China's 40 other panda sanctuaries, indicating there could be many more pandas than previously believed.

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