bao bao panda
'Oh no, not bamboo for lunch again!' Bao Bao the giant panda at the US National Zoo in Washington DCAFP

The secret language of giant pandas has been translated by scientists in China, discovering how the endangered species says things like I love you, I'm hungry and go away. The team from the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda (CCRCGP) say decoding their language will aid conservation of the species.

After finding more than a dozen sounds pandas use as words, the team is now planning to develop a high-tech panda translator that will use voice recognition technology to understand what they are saying to each other.

Experts have been working on the panda linguistics project for the past five years, making recordings of adult males, females and panda cubs at the centre in various situations. According to China's Xinhua news agency, they managed to translate 13 different panda vocalisations.

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Researchers analysed data on their voices and activities (such as eating, fighting and mating) to discover when panda cubs make a "gee-gee" sound it means they are hungry. When they say "wow-wow" it means they are unhappy, while "coo-coo" means nice or good.

Zhang Hemin, head of the CCRCGP, said: "We managed to decode some panda language and the results are quite interesting. Adult giant pandas usually are solitary, so the only language teacher they have is their own mother. If a panda mother keeps tweeting like a bird, she may be anxious about her babies. She barks loudly when a stranger comes near." He said the barking is interpreted as "go away".

When it comes to love, male pandas "baa" while females respond with tweeting noises. All these unusual sounds came as a big surprise to researchers, with Zhang explaining: "Trust me. Our researchers were so confused when we began the project that they wondered if they were studying a panda, a bird, a dog, or a sheep. [But] If we can understand their language, it will help us protect the animal, especially in the wild."