An Inspiring Good Start

“Our team found fresh panda feces!”

“We have seen wild pandas!”

The 4th National Giant Panda Census was launched by the State Forestry Administration in October, 2011. Shanxi Province forestry officials initiated surveys of multiple areas of giant panda habitat at the same time. All surveyors were carefully trained to use the same techniques.

Shaanxi’s Foping Nature Reserve, the area most densely populated by giant pandas, is also the nature reserve with the best odds of running into wild pandas. Foping staff began their field investigation on March 17,2012. The 12 survey teams assumed their respective roles at each survey section.

The surveyors were inspired from day one when 6 teams successfully collected giant panda feces and one team even caught site of several wild pandas. 16 samples of bamboo stem remains were measured and 4 DNA samples were extracted. The first-day of the investigation was truly fruitful.

The whole area of the Foping Nature Reserve was to be investigated. It was divided into 148 sections of 2 square kilometers plots. Each transect line was scientifically determined in every section. Following the technical standards and rules, 92 surveyors and guides carried out the survey along these planned routes. In addition to collecting panda feces, they observed and recorded all traces left behind by giant pandas such as hair and scratch marks on trees. This detailed information provided researches with a clearer picture of the current population size of the wild pandas in Foping.


The Survey at Sanguan Temple

In early April, the survey team moved to the center of Foping Nature Reserve—the Sanguan Temple Conservation Station—to proceed with the investigation.

The scenery of springtime in Foping is pleasant. A sea of light yellow dogwoods stretched through the dark-green primeval forest, bathed in brilliant sunshine. Unmelted snow was occasionally seen. Thanks to the implementation of an ecological migration project, human interference has been minimized leaving Sanguan Temple undisturbed and perfectly quiet.

In recent years, Sanguan Temple has become one of the optimal spots for scientific research,       a field investigation, and conservation education on giant pandas in the Qinling Mountains. At dinner time on April 7, the survey teams exchanged         information on their investigation progress. It was a rewarding day. All 12 teams had collected giant panda feces and several teams reported 6 wild panda sightings.

One survey team described the encounter vividly. “A sub-adult giant panda walked vigorously and fast into the forest when it saw us, the unexpected guests.” Another team described observing a panda who looked to be about one year old. It looked like a “super cute” stuffed animal whose bottom wiggled as it ran back into the forest Wang Na, one of the surveyors, said he heard some deep rhythmic breathing, similar to snoring sounds while he was filling out his data sheet. It turned out that it was a giant panda deep in sleep several meters away. Some team members stated that the adult panda they had seen was extremely uncooperative with its photographers and disappeared quickly from sight… Hearing these wonderful stories about giant panda encounters is undoubtedly a delight.

The surveyors focused their main effort on the core area where the wild panda population was centered and as a result, had numerous sighting? On April 20, surveyor Li Jiyu witnessed three pan das fighting for the mating right with one female On April 24, Xiong Baiquan caught sight of four pandas in the same area. Two days later, a total of six pandas were seen at different locations.

Even though all the surveyors were eager to see pandas for themselves, they did not solely focus on searching. Surveying along the transect lines, they meticulously recorded every detail. They were fully aware that their mission was not to change or interfere with nature but to study and protect it.


Experiencing Hardship in Huangtongliang

After the first stage of the investigation, the surveyors were divided into two teams in line with local conditions and carried out their investigations at Huangtongliang and Zhongzui simultaneously.

On April 19,departing from Daguping Conservation Station, the Huangtongliang survey team arrived at Xihe Conservation Station and spent a night there. The next day, they hiked spiritedly with heavy I loads for 9 hours and finally reached the Huang-tonliang monitoring station. With only two basic and lightly equipped concrete buildings, the so-called monitoring station was more of a shelter.

The vicinity of Huangtongliang is the source of Jinshui River, the main tributary of the Han I River. Complicated terrain interweaves with a crisscrossed water system, making wading a common task for the surveyors. They set out from the camp early in the morning at 6:00am, and would not come back until 6:00pm. When confronted with rivers that blocked the road, if conditions I permitted, they would make a temporary bridge I with local materials available nearby, or they had to I wade through the river. Treading on slippery rocks, I hand in hand, the surveyors plodded on through I torrential streams. Their shoes and trousers were soaked with stream water and later dried, along with their bodies. This occurred dozens of times every day.

Far away from the city, electricity was unavailable at the Huangtongliang monitoring station. The survey routes were naturally rough, in addition to the complicated water system. All these factors led to the decision not to bring laptops to Huangtongliang. So the GPS data could not be processed in a timely manner. After returning to the Administrative Bureau of the nature reserve, the surveyors would download relative materials and compare the tracks they had surveyed with the planned routes. Only professional survey technicians could fulfill such a task while combating such hardships.

Continual rain is a great taboo for field investigation. Fortunately, the weather was favorable and the survey went on well. On April 27, both teams started on their way back.