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It may not be all doom and gloom for the panda world that we once thought was lived in solitude.

New study: Pandas are actually more social than we think

Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter

Monday, March 30, 2015, 12:47 PM - If your idea of a panda's everyday life involves wandering alone through a misty bamboo forest, that may be inaccurate - the "lonely" part at least.

Long thought of as solitary creatures, it turns out members of China's most famous fauna are actually quite social, if new research from Michigan State University is to be believed.

Scientists slapped GPS collars on five of them - Four females and one male - and tracked them across southeast China's Wolong National Park from 2010 to 2012. They found they seemed to hang out together on a relatively regular basis.

"We can see it clearly wasn't just a fluke," lead researcher Vanessa Hull said in a release from MSU. "We could see they were in the same locations, which we never would have expected for that length of time and at that time of year.”

Pandas Roam from CSIS at MSU on Vimeo.

While it's only a small sample size, the researchers learned a lot about how they interact with each other in the wild.

The adult male and two females were actually seen together for weeks at a time, usually in the fall, outside mating season. 

The male they tracked roamed over a greater range than his occasional companions, which the researchers believe indicates he "checks in" on different females in the area, marking his scent along the way.

They're also apparently bamboo gourmands. They eat through one patch of bamboo before moving on to another, but the researchers noticed they'd return to "core areas" they'd visited before. That suggests they remember feeding zones that were particularly good in the past, and hoped to repeat the experience once that patch had some time to regrow.

The researchers had to get permission from the Chinese government to install the collars, a rare allowance, and the researchers say this is the first time GPS has been used to track not just the pandas, but how they interact with each other.

Their numbers are famously few, but they have actually been rising in recent years. There were only 1,000 believed to be living in the wild in 1977, but the last census, in 2014, found more than 1,800.

The new research was published in the Journal of Mammalogy.

SOURCE: Michigan State University | World Wildlife Federation | Journal of Mammalogy

BONUS VIDEO: Panda and polar bear play in newly fallen snow:

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