Forestry authorities in northwestern China's Shaanxi province said Monday that they have begun combing forests for giant pandas in order to determine how many of the endangered animals are living in the wild.
The census in Shaanxi, one of the major habitats of giant pandas, is part of a once-a-decade nationwide panda census ordered last year by the state forestry bureau.
The search for pandas in the Qinling Mountains kicked off after months of preparation, including setting up and training a team of over 600 trackers, said a statement from the provincial forestry department.
This is the fourth nationwide giant panda census since the program was launched in the 1970s.
The previous census, which took place about 10 years ago, counted 1,596 wild pandas in China. At that time, 273 of them lived in Shaanxi and a majority of the rest lived in neighboring Sichuan province.
Sichuan started the census in October and authorities in the southwestern province said their trackers would collect panda droppings for DNA analysis, which would allow zoologists to track individual pandas and accurately estimate the number of pandas living in the wild.
Field research in Shaanxi is expected to finish by October 2013, according to the statement.