Counting Pandas

Is a Dirty Job

* Last week we shared the good news that there are more giant pandas in China's forests than had been thought. A study in the late 1980s counted 1,110 wild pandas in China. The latest tally is about 1,600, says the World Wildlife Fund.

Did you ever wonder how researchers count pandas in the wild? Here's a hint: poop.

Pandas eat lots of bamboo -- up to 80 pounds a day! It's hard to digest, though, so what comes out their hind ends often still has chew marks on it. And since each panda's bite pattern is unique, studying the chew marks in the poop gives a clue as to how many pandas are out there.

Two other counting methods are studying paw prints and looking for bits of fur caught on tree bark. Satellites use this information to map where pandas are.

More happy news on the panda front: An American-born panda that was sent to China in February is pregnant! Four-year-old Hua Mei, whose name means "China-America," is one of two surviving pandas born in the United States and the first foreign-born panda to return to its ancestral homeland.

Vets prepared Hua Mei for motherhood by showing her videos of mating pandas. It worked. Her baby is due in September.

Hua Mei leaves behind lots of chewed bamboo. And soon, hopefully, a baby.