Liang Chunping and Luo Chunping are members of one of the world's smallest occupations. They are wild panda trackers employed by the Wanglang National Nature Reserve in Sichuan Province, home to nearly 300 giant pandas.
Wanglang National Nature Reserve, established in 1965, is one of four major wild panda habitats in Sichuan Province. [Wang Qian/china.org.cn]
Liang and Luo, both at their 30s, share the same given name and the same passion for nature. They joined the reserve after leaving the army 10 years ago and have been chasing giant pandas through the bamboo forests of the reserve ever since. They were trained by zoologists, but mainly rely on their instincts and physical fitness to keep pace with their surprisingly sprightly and elusive quarry.
The trackers are currently collecting preliminary data for China's fourth national giant panda census, due to take place in June. The previous census counted 1,200 wild pandas in Sichuan Province, including 260 in the Wanglang reserve.
When three reporters from china.org.cn joined them, Liang and Luo were collecting images and data from 36 infrared cameras recently installed around the 322-square-kilometer reserve. They also collect panda droppings for DNA analysis. The DNA allows zoologists to track individual pandas and accurately estimate the number of pandas living in the wild.
Wanglang is the first reserve to use infrared cameras. Camera surveillance allows researchers to monitor the activities of the pandas at different seasons and weather patterns, and helps with conservation planning. Other reserves are likely to follow suit.