Surprising Discovery Shows Pandas Have Memories That May Rival Yours

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Pandas get lonely, too. And they never forget.

The social life of China's national animal has long been a mystery to scientists - until now. Scientists affixed GPS tracking collars onto five pandas in the Wolong Nature Reserve in southwest China to find out just what pandas are up to when humans aren't around. The pandas, whom the scientists named Long Long, Pan Pan, Mei Mei, Zhong Zhong (all females) and Chuan Chuan (a male) wore the GPS trackers for two years, during which scientists tracked their every move to discover a "peek into the panda's secretive society that has been closed off to us in the past."

It turns out that pandas, thought to be perpetual loners, actually hang out together sometimes. Three of the bears - two females and one male - were recorded in the same part of the forest for several weeks on end, suggesting that they "are not as solitary as once widely believed," one of the paper's co-authors said in a release.

Michigan State University Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability

Another finding suggests pandas have remarkable memories, at least when it comes to their favorite food, bamboo. Pandas have core areas where they prefer to feed, moving from one spot to the next as they exhaust the bamboo. Interestingly, a panda will return to bamboo forest areas where she had feasted up to six months earlier in anticipation of the regrowth of tasty leaves. The finding suggests that the bears are capable of remembering these areas, according to the study, published this month in the Journal of Mammalogy by researchers from Michigan State University.


Finding out where pandas are going is critical in order to know what areas to protect. Considered an endangered species, pandas were once nearly wiped out by hunting and habitat loss. But with effective management and protection, the population has grown by 17 percent over the past decade to 1,864 bears.

See this page for more information about how to help save China's giant pandas.