updated 7/29/2007 4:08:41 PM ET 2007-07-29T20:08:41

China's endangered pandas have expanded their habitat areas in bamboo forests in two western provinces, researchers have found by tracking their droppings, state media reported Saturday.

Xinhua News Agency said forestry researchers have identified panda droppings in areas beyond known habitats bordering northwestern Gansu province and southwestern Sichuan province.

"This indicates an expansion of the giant panda's habitat — and probably of its population, too," Huang Huali, vice director of the Baishuijiang Nature Reserve Administration, was quoted as saying.

The last census on pandas, which lasted from 1999 to 2001, counted 103 pandas in Baishuijiang, the largest of China's 55 giant panda reserves.

The panda is one of the world's rarest animals, with about 1,590 living in the wild in China, mostly in Sichuan and the western province of Shaanxi.

Another 180 have been bred in captivity.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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