More than 60 pandas live in Chinese sanctuary

The researchers believe that as few as 66 and as many as 72 pandas may be living in the Wanglang Nature Reserve - more than twice the previous estimate of 32, Wei Fumin, a zoologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and a member of the research team, said Wednesday.

The researchers arrived at the estimates by taking samples of panda droppings in the reserve and developing genetic profiles, said Wei.

The rising numbers are likely the result of natural population growth, migration from other areas and the effectiveness of conservation policies such as a logging ban aimed at preserving panda habitat, Wei said.

Full results of the research, which was conducted by a joint British-Chinese team, were published in the June 20 edition of the journal Current Biology.

Despite the rising numbers in Wanglang, Wei said it was too early to say whether similar studies in other preserves would show a higher overall number for China's wild panda population, now estimated at about 1,600, the AP reports.

Wei said the new methodology also sheds light on little known aspects of panda life, such as their family ties, geographic dispersal, age distribution and mating and migration habits, Wei said.