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Archive for Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Food shortages forcing pandas to be evacuated

A panda rescued after the May 12 earthquake eats bamboo shoots in a cage at a panda research center in China's Sichuan province. Pandas living in an earthquake-hit area in southwest China have been evacuated to temporary shelters because of a shortage of food and the continuing threat of landslides and other hazards.

A panda rescued after the May 12 earthquake eats bamboo shoots in a cage at a panda research center in China's Sichuan province. Pandas living in an earthquake-hit area in southwest China have been evacuated to temporary shelters because of a shortage of food and the continuing threat of landslides and other hazards.

June 25, 2008

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— Pandas living in earthquake-hit southwest China are facing a food shortage, and some have been evacuated to temporary shelters because of the threat of landslides and other hazards, an official said Tuesday.

Only seven pandas of the original 63 are left in the Wolong Nature Reserve deep in the lush mountains of Sichuan province, close to the epicenter of last month's magnitude-7.9 temblor, said Zhang Hemin, director of the Wolong Panda Breeding Center.

Their usual diet of bamboo is being supplemented by milk and biscuits because so much of the local bamboo was either damaged or destroyed by the quake, Zhang said.

Most of the other pandas have been moved or are on their way to other habitats "because of the threat of possible geological disasters, including landslides," he said.

"We're trying to get them to safety," Zhang said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

The Wolong preserve is at the heart of China's gargantuan effort to use captive breeding and artificial insemination to save the giant panda, which is revered as an unofficial national mascot.

Only about 1,600 pandas live in the wild, mostly in Sichuan. An additional 180 have been bred in captivity, many of them at Wolong, and scores have been loaned or given to zoos abroad, with the revenues helping fund conservation programs.

June marks the start of the annual rainy season, which routinely causes the region's fast flowing streams to flood their banks. Landslides are a particular concern because the quake caused hillsides to shear away and crash into river valleys below.

The pandas' new homes include the Bifengxia Giant Panda Base about 75 miles outside Sichuan's provincial capital of Chengdu, another breeding center in Chengdu itself, and facilities in the eastern province of Fujian and the southern province of Guangdong, Zhang said.

The transfer, which began last week, should be complete by early July, he said.

Wolong and 48 other wildlife reserves in Sichuan were heavily damaged by the May 12 quake.

One panda was killed in Wolong, just 20 miles away from the epicenter, and another remains missing. It was not known how many wild pandas died.

The quake hit during what the Chinese delicately call the "falling in love period," a 24- to 72-hour window each spring when female pandas are fertile. More than a dozen captive pandas were artificially inseminated and an unknown number of wild pandas may have gotten pregnant and should be eating more, state media said.

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