State media reported that around 70 trackers are being trained at the Wanglang Nature Reserve in the south-western province of Sichuan. This area is believed to harbour the largest number of wild pandas in China, and is one of the last six isolated forests where giant pandas remain.
As part of an initial pilot study, the trackers will search for giant panda droppings for ten days, as the animals themselves are so shy and reclusive that they are rarely seen in their fog-shrouded, mountainous, forested habitat. The nationwide study is expected to start at the end of July.
Each giant panda is thought to defecate up to 40 times a day, leaving its own trail behind it from which scientists can identify the individual by running a DNA test. The census should not only provide an accurate figure for the panda population, but also determine the average age of the population and how its habitat is changing.
The previous census, in 2001, counted 1,596 wild giant pandas in China, although some scientists have since estimated the number of individuals to be as high as 3,000.
Alex Royan, Species Text Author