CHENGDU, Jan. 26 (Xinhua) -- On the way to deliver some goods with two friends, Yang Sijie suddenly saw a panda leisurely sitting in a tree.
Excited, he quickly took some photos, which soon went viral on Chinese social media.
"It is not surprising to see them," said Yang, a native of Lushan County, Ya'an City, home of the country's Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda. "The seniors can even recognize them by their poop."
Local residents have come across wild giant pandas at least 18 times since 2015 in eight counties in Ya'an, according to incomplete statistics from local authorities.
In June last year, three forestry workers saw an adult wild panda drinking water on a roadside in Baoxing County, the fourth such encounter in the county in a year.
The black-and-white bundles of fur, beloved across the globe for their charm, were discovered by French priest Pierre Armand David about 140 years ago.
Wild pandas grow very slowly, and most live in the provinces of Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu.
In 2013, one of their major habitats suffered damage in the Lushan earthquake, but their population has been on the rise thanks to a substantial increase in forest coverage and post-quake habitat restoration.
Local residents have also joined to protect them from poaching. Some bold pandas even sneak into bamboo gardens to "steal" food.
"Wild panda habitat has increased by 66,000 hectares to 548,000 hectares from 10 years ago, and the number of wild pandas spotted in Ya'an also increased by 81 to a total of 340," said Li Conghao, official at Ya'an forestry bureau.
A national survey released in February 2015 showed that by the end of 2013, China had 1,864 wild pandas and 375 others kept in captivity.