Cuddly giant pandas, regarded as "national treasures" in modern China, were once delicious food for ancient people living in the country's southwest, a Chinese scientist has claimed.
Pandas were eaten by prehistoric man who inhabited in the area of today's Chongqing Municipality, where the cuddly creatures once teemed, said paleoanthropologist Wei Guangbiao.
"We have studied many samples of the panda fossils excavated in Chongqing from the sites where humans once lived," said Wei.
"A large number of them showed that pandas were once slashed to death by man," he was quoted as saying by state-run Xinhua new agency.
"In the primitive time, man would not kill animals that were useless to them," he said. But Wei said the pandas ancient man devoured were by no means "giant".
"They were much smaller than today's giant pandas, just the size of the Tibetan mastiffs," said Wei, adding the miniature creatures were the direct ancestors of the giant pandas we see today.
Wei, head of the Institute of Three Gorges Paleoanthropology at the Chongqing China Three Gorges Museum, is a co-author of the award-winning book "Origins of Giant Pandas."
He said, dating back 10,000 years to one million years, high mountains in Chongqing were home to wild pandas, which later left for other areas, including the neighbouring Sichuan Province, now dubbed "hometown of pandas."
Wei attributed their massive migration to the extinction of their staple diet, bamboos, because of climate change.