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Wild pandas spotted in reserve after 10 year absence

    Forestry workers in southwest China's Sichuan Province said Friday they spotted four giant pandas in a nature reserve where none have been seen for 10 years.

    The workers spied the pandas on Wednesday at the Baihe Nature Reserve in Jiuzhaigou County, in the Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture of Aba.

    'We were patrolling the Tongjiashan Mountain when we saw the pandas,' said Bai Yongbin, a forestry worker at the reserve. 'We took photos of them.'

    Bai and his colleagues also found fresh panda droppings and saw that large areas of bamboo forest had been gnawed.
'We've taken DNA samples from the droppings for lab work,' he said.

    Baihe Reserve, a 16,000-hectare area established in 1963, is at the northern edge of one giant panda habitat - the Minshan Mountains in Sichuan. The area is a major stopping point for giant pandas when they migrate from Sichuan to Gansu and Shaanxi provinces in the northwest.

    The panda population at the reserve shrank significantly after the amount of bamboo -- pandas' staple food -- in the reserve decreased in the 1980s.

    Eight pandas were found in a 2000 survey but not a single bear was spotted since then until now.

    The giant panda is regarded as a 'living fossil' because its ancestors are believed to have lived in China more than 8 million years ago.

    Its habitat today is mainly heavily forested areas 2,400 to 3,500 meters above sea level, mostly in Sichuan but also in northwest China's Shaanxi and Gansu provinces.

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