Michigan  - They are one of the rarest bears on Earth, and little is known about their private lives. However, reclusive giant pandas may not be quite as solitary as we thought. Researchers say that in fact, they can be sociable. A team of Michigan State University (MSU) researchers have been electronically stalking five pandas in the wild using GPS collars.

‘Pandas are such an elusive species and it’s very hard to observe them in wild, so we haven’t had a good picture of where they are from one day to the next,’ said Vanessa Hull, a research associate at MSU’s Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability (CSIS).

Jindong Zhang, a co-author, said  ‘This was a great opportunity to get a peek into the panda’s secretive society that has been closed off to us in the past.’ Hull adds. ‘Once we got all the data in the computer we could see where they go and map it. ‘It was so fascinating to sit down and watch their whole year unfold before you like a little window into their world.’

The five pandas - three female adults named Pan Pan, Mei Mei and Zhong Zhong, a young female Long Long and a male dubbed Chuan Chuan - were captured, collared and tracked from 2010 to 2012, in the Wolong Nature Reserve in southwest China. The Chinese government is protective of its endangered pandas and for more than a decade banned putting GPS collars on them.

While a handful of studies have tracked some, this is one of the first times technology has been used that provided more detail on the pandas’ movements and how they interact with one another over time. One of the biggest surprises: The pandas seem to hang together sometimes.