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Scientists discover amazing secret lives of pandas using GPS trackers

Most people probably think of pandas as loners, but in fact they’re a lot more social, and even flirtatious, than most people think, new research has found.

In a study published in the Journal of Mammalogy, co-author Vanessa Hull of Michigan State University found that rather than being solitary creatures, they actually live rich and complex social lives, according to a Discovery News report.

She said that pandas are elusive, so it’s hard to view them in the wild and study their behaviors. To fix this problem, she and her colleagues put GPS collars on five pandas in Wolong Nature Reserve in China. The pandas even have their own names: three adult females named Pan Pan, Mei Mei, and Zhong Zhong, a young female named Long Long, and the lone male: Chuan Chuan.

After getting the GPS collars, they were released back into the nature reserve for study, which co-author Jindong Zhang called a “great opportunity to get a peek into the panda’s secretive society,” according to the report.

Once all the data was downloaded onto a computer, scientists were able to map where pandas were going over the course of a year. Two of the adult females spent long periods together during the fall. Long Long, the young female panda, also spent time with them.

Meanwhile, the male panda, Chuan Chuan, traveled much farther than the females, although he often returned to check on them. He would then mark his scent, and the females appeared to be loyal to him. This suggests that male pandas may keep harems.

It’s been difficult to conduct research on pandas, because the Chinese government is very protect of the species and for a long time it has banned putting GPS collars on them.