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Chinese scientist says prehistoric humans ate pandas

Shin Shin rests at Ueno Zoo.jpg

Female giant panda Shin Shin rests at Ueno Zoo in Tokyo Wednesday, June 27, 2012. The zoo announced Monday that Shin Shin, who arrived from China with a male partner in Feb, 2011, has shown signs of pregnancy. The zoo plans to suspend public viewing from July 3 to monitor her closely. A zoo official said the status won't be confirmed until the birth of a baby because there are many cases that end in false pregnancy. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)AP2012

China's beloved national symbol -- the panda -- may have been seen quite differently by ancient humans: as food.

Scientist Wei Guangbiao says prehistoric man ate pandas in an area that is now part of the city of Chongqing in southwest China.

Wei, head of the Institute of Three Gorges Paleoanthropology at a Chongqing museum, says many excavated panda fossils "showed that pandas were once slashed to death by man."

The Chongqing Morning Post quoted him Friday as saying: "In primitive times, people wouldn't kill animals that were useless to them" and therefore the pandas must have been used as food.

But he says pandas were much smaller then.

Wei says wild pandas lived in Chongqing's high mountains 10,000 to 1 million years ago.

The Chinese government invests greatly in studying the native species and trying to ensure its survival. Pandas number about 1,600 in the wild, where they are critically endangered due to poaching and development. More than 300 live in captivity, mostly in China's breeding programs.