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CHENGDU, April 2, Xinhua-- Wolong National Nature Reserve, southwest China's Sichuan Province, has conducted a large-scale investigation into the number of wild giant pandas and their habitat, as China marks the 150th anniversary of their scientific discovery.

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(Photo/National Forestry and Grassland Administration)

The investigation covered 1,032 square kilometers of potential and actual habitats. By collecting the fresh panda feces, the reserve plans to archive their individual information including DNA and gender, said Shi Xiaogang, head of the reserve's Mujiangping protection station.

The investigation is also expected to help study the dynamic changes of the same individual panda's activity in different seasons and years, and figure out the population and sex ratio of the wild pandas, to provide guidance for panda re-wilding, according to Zhang Hemin, a panda expert.

The giant panda was scientifically discovered 150 years ago and named in the city of Ya'an, Sichuan. Easily recognized by black patches around the eyes, ears and across its round body, the species lives in the deep mountains and soon became one of the world's favorites.

However, it was not until in 1978 that scientists home and abroad were able to begin observational studies of pandas at the Wolong Nature Reserve, known as "the home of the giant panda."

The pioneers spent up to eight years setting up seven routes in the area of 35 square kilometers to trace the activities of wild pandas, and observing their activity patterns using radiotelemetry, providing much data on the species.

In 1980, the Chinese government cooperated with the World Wide Fund for Nature to establish the "China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda" (CCRCGP) to save the endangered pandas. The center aimed at raising the number of pandas by captive-breeding programs, but its ultimate goal was to return to the wild.

In order to enable the captive pandas to return to the wild independently, the "wild training" of the captive-bred pandas at Wolong has been going on for over a decade.

Now, Zhang Hemin and his colleagues have made some breakthrough in the panda captive-breeding, realizing the self-sustaining and sustainable development of the captive panda population.

Over the past few years, 11 giant pandas have "graduated" from the training base and nine were successfully released into the wild.

The training will enrich the genetic diversity of the panda population so as to maintain its healthy and sustainable development, Zhang said.

So far, there have been more than 100 field observations and personnel patrols at Wolong, which is also equipped with modern observation facilities such as infrared cameras and GPS trackers. Staff are also working on improving the monitoring system for panda habitats and establishing a DNA database for the species.

Giant pandas are one of the world's most endangered species. Fewer than 2,000 pandas live in the wild, mostly in the provinces of Sichuan and Shaanxi. There were 375 giant pandas in captivity at the end of 2013, about 200 of them at the CCRCGP. 

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