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News Release 07-183

Web Surfers Can Follow Researcher as She Seeks to Collar and Study Pandas in Chinese Reserve

National Science Foundation researcher will beam back multimedia information about her panda quest

Photo of a giant panda

Panda at the China Research and Conservation Center for the Giant Panda in the Wolong Reserve.

December 10, 2007

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

May 16, 2008 update - While communications to the Wolong Nature Reserve remain severely challenged and information sparse, Jianguo "Jack" Liu, leader of MSU's Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability, has confirmed that the three graduate students who work on his projects have survived the earthquake and are helping with rescue efforts.

MSU's panda research team has established a fund to assist the people who live alongside the giant pandas and other valuable species in the reserve. This is the area in which doctoral student Vanessa Hull lived in and blogged this winter as she attempted to trap and collar the elusive pandas. Her NSF-funded work and her perspectives on life in Wolong have been followed by people all over the world.

For more updates, go to


Michigan State University's (MSU) panda habitat research team has spent years collecting mountains of data to help understand and save giant pandas. Now Web surfers can join a graduate student as she works to catch crucial data that's black, white and furry.

Vanessa Hull, 25, a Ph.D. candidate, is in the snowy, remote mountains of the Sichuan Province of China--which also is the heart of panda habitat. She's hoping to capture, collar and track up to four wild pandas using advanced global positioning systems.

Along with her research gear, Hull, a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Fellow and MSU University Distinguished Fellow, is lugging a small digital video camera and a laptop computer. She's sending back video and images to add to MSU's ongoing coverage of panda habitat research.

Her quest is being documented at from MSU's Office of University Relations. It includes video clips and panda pictures from previous trips MSU has documented, as well as news releases relevant to scientific publications. There's also a chance to e-mail questions about the panda research to the team.

"We are very excited about this new project. It will generate lots of long-awaited important information about panda biology, behavior and interactions with human activities," says Jianguo "Jack" Liu, Hull's major advisor, Rachel Carson chair in sustainability and university distinguished professor of fisheries and wildlife.

For the past dozen years, the MSU Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability, led by Liu, painstakingly has gathered and crunched data on the pandas' habitat, in collaboration with Professor Zhiyun Ouyang at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Director Hemin Zhang at Wolong Nature Reserve.

With support from NSF, NASA, National Natural Science Foundation of China and other sources, the scientists have made groundbreaking discoveries on the give-and-take between panda and human survival in the bamboo jungles, mountains and farmland of the Wolong Nature Reserve, home of the famous panda research and breeding center.

The giant pandas are the darlings of their native China and the world. But walk through panda habitat and they're invisible. Pandas are endangered. Estimates of panda numbers in the wild range from 1,600 to 3,000.

Pandas are particular. Nonnegotiable to the panda is a home that offers lots of choice bamboo, mature trees strong enough to hold a napping panda, ideal temperature and a comfy slope.

Pandas share their home, even in reserves, with people locked in their own struggle to survive. The logging and farming that provides humans heat for their homes and income to survive has wiped out acres of panda-friendly terrain.

Recent history is steeped in irony. China's efforts to save the pandas have made the nature reserves an irresistible tourist attraction. Panda fans on ecotourism trips flock like groupies. This commerce and development degrades panda habitat.

Hull, a student in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife in the MSU College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, is among the first to obtain permits to trap the pandas and fit them with safe GPS collars. She and the team will map where these elusive creatures go, effectively letting the pandas tell the researchers the habitat they like best.

Scientists can mesh what the pandas tell them with that mountain of data. It can help them identify the most hospitable panda neighborhoods, learn how to preserve those and create more.


Media Contacts
Lily Whiteman, National Science Foundation, 703-292-8310, email:
Sue Nichols, Michigan State University, 517-353-8942, email:

Program Contacts
Thomas Baerwald, National Science Foundation, 703-292-7301, email:

Jianguo "Jack" Liu, Michigan State University, 517-432-5025, email:

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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