Prehistoric people in China used to regularly eat giant pandas, according to new research by scientist Wei Guangbiao, head of the Institute of Three Gorges Paleoanthropology.


Wei says he has excavated panda fossils near the modern-day city of Chongqing that show tool marks, "showed that pandas were once slashed to death by man."


He told the Chongqing Morning Post that the slash marks meant the pandas had to have been food, since "In primitive times, people wouldn't kill animals that were useless to them." The Associated Press reported on his comments.


Giant pandas, which still exist in the mountains of nearby Sichuan province and a few other places in China, were once plentiful in the mountainous Chongqing region. Wei says the animals lived there between 10,000 and 1 million years ago, but they were much smaller than they are now. Modern pandas can grow up to six feet in length and weigh upwards of 350 pounds.


Giant pandas today are an endangered species facing habitat loss and fragmented populations. According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the wild population of giant pandas numbers less than 2,000 and possibly as few as 1,000 animals. The species lives in small pockets of habitat with no individual populations greater than 250 individuals.


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