To catch a panda

Dec 10, 2007

Michigan State University’s panda habitat research team has spent years collecting mountains of data aimed at understanding and saving giant pandas. Now a graduate student is working to catch crucial data that’s black, white and furry.

Vanessa Hull, 25, a Ph.D. candidate, is in the snowy, remote mountains of the Sichuan Province of China – which also is the heart of panda habitat. She’s hoping to capture, collar and track up to four wild pandas using advanced global positioning systems.

Hull, a student in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife in the MSU College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, is among the first since the 1990s in this crucial area to obtain permits to trap the pandas and fit them with GPS collars. She and the team will map where these elusive creatures go, effectively letting the pandas tell the researchers the habitat they like best.

“Reintroducing captive pandas into the wild is a very difficult process because pandas in captivity aren’t used to be in wild, they don’t have the survival skills,” Hull said. “The researchers in China want to collaborate with us closely.”

Scientists can mesh what the pandas tell them with that mountain of data. It can help them identify the most hospitable panda neighborhoods, learn how to preserve those and create more.

“We are very excited about this new project. It will generate lots of long-awaited important information about panda biology, behavior and interactions with human activities,” says Jianguo "Jack" Liu, Hull’s major adviser, Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability and University Distinguished Professor of fisheries and wildlife.

For the past dozen years, the MSU Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability, led by Liu, painstakingly has gathered and crunched data on the pandas’ habitat, in collaboration with Professor Zhiyun Ouyang at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Director Hemin Zhang at Wolong Nature Reserve.

With support from the National Science Foundation, NASA, National Natural Science Foundation of China and other sources, the scientists have made groundbreaking discoveries on the give-and-take between panda and human survival in the bamboo jungles, mountains and farmland of the Wolong Nature Reserve, home of the famous panda research and breeding center.

The giant pandas are the darlings of their native China and the world. But walk through panda habitat and they’re invisible. Pandas are endangered. Estimates of panda numbers in the wild range from 1,600 to 3,000.

Pandas are particular. Nonnegotiable to the panda is a home that offers lots of choice bamboo, mature trees strong enough to hold a napping panda, ideal temperature and a comfy slope.

Pandas share their home, even in reserves, with people locked in their own struggle to survive. The logging and farming that provides humans heat for their homes and income to survive has wiped out acres of panda-friendly terrain.

Recent history is steeped in irony. China’s efforts to save the pandas have made the nature reserves an irresistible tourist attraction. Panda fans on ecotourism trips flock like groupies. This commerce and development degrades panda habitat.

Source: Michigan State University

Explore further: California delays decision on protecting gray wolf

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Love-shy panda artificially inseminated

Apr 15, 2014

Britain's only female giant panda, Tian Tian, has been artificially inseminated after failing to mate with her male partner Yang Guang, Edinburgh Zoo said Tuesday.

Bamboo-loving giant pandas also have a sweet tooth

Mar 26, 2014

Despite the popular conception of giant pandas as continually chomping on bamboo to fulfill a voracious appetite for this reedy grass, new research from the Monell Center reveals that this highly endangered ...

Gauging what it takes to heal a disaster-ravaged forest

Feb 24, 2014

Recovering from natural disasters usually means rebuilding infrastructure and reassembling human lives. Yet ecologically sensitive areas need to heal, too, and scientists are pioneering new methods to assess ...

Recommended for you

Adventurous bacteria

47 minutes ago

To reproduce or to conquer the world? Surprisingly, bacteria also face this problem. Theoretical biophysicists at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich have now shown how these organisms should ...

Japan lawmakers demand continued whaling

2 hours ago

Japanese lawmakers on Wednesday demanded the government redesign its "research" whaling programme to circumvent an international court ruling that described the programme as a commercial hunt dressed up as ...

Revealing camouflaged bacteria

2 hours ago

A research team at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel has discovered an protein family that plays a central role in the fight against the bacterial pathogen Salmonella within the cells. The so cal ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Adventurous bacteria

To reproduce or to conquer the world? Surprisingly, bacteria also face this problem. Theoretical biophysicists at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich have now shown how these organisms should ...

Revealing camouflaged bacteria

A research team at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel has discovered an protein family that plays a central role in the fight against the bacterial pathogen Salmonella within the cells. The so cal ...

How kids' brain structures grow as memory develops

Our ability to store memories improves during childhood, associated with structural changes in the hippocampus and its connections with prefrontal and parietal cortices. New research from UC Davis is exploring ...

Gate for bacterial toxins found

Prof. Dr. Dr. Klaus Aktories and Dr. Panagiotis Papatheodorou from the Institute of Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology of the University of Freiburg have discovered the receptor responsible ...