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China quake leaves giant pandas in dire need of bamboo
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The deadly earthquake that jolted southwest China's Sichuan Province on May 12 has destroyed the homes of giant pandas and left the bears in dire need of their favorite food, bamboo.

Panda keepers at the Wolong Nature Reserve, about 30 kilometers from the epicenter of the 8.0-magnitude quake, have had difficulty in reaching the animals' food resources as the quake, continuous aftershocks and subsequent landslides damaged mountain roads, said Zhou Xiaoping, an official with the Wolong-based China Giant Panda Protection and Research Center.

Starting on Friday, fresh bamboo began to arrive from Baoxing County, another giant panda habitat about 50 km southwest of Wolong, he said. "The road conditions are very bad and transportation takes much longer than normal. But thank goodness, the worst food crisis is almost over."

The earthquake left five workers of the Wolong center dead, two pandas injured and six pandas missing -- four of them returned and workers are still looking for the other two.

Shortly after the quake, the pandas were transferred to safer places, but the bamboo groves could not be moved.

"Pandas are very picky about food and eat only fresh arrow bamboos. A panda consumes 10 to 18 kilograms of bamboo a day," said Zhang Guiquan, vice director of Wolong center.

The center's food reserves lasted only for two days and the pandas had to make do with rice porridge on the third day, said Zhang.

The State Forestry Administration ordered an emergency shipment of 1,500 kg of bamboo and other food for the pandas last Sunday. "But that did not last long. Besides, the highway linking Chengdu and Wolong was damaged by aftershocks," he said.

On Friday, the center sent six pandas to Ya'an, another giant panda breeding base that was less affected by the quake.

Eight other pandas arrived in Beijing on Saturday, as part of a plan to add festivity to the Olympic Games opening on Aug. 8.

They have moved into an 800-square-meter new home at the Beijing Zoo, which consists of seven pens, all air-conditioned and with round-the-clock monitoring devices, and four play areas.

Authorities of the Beijing Zoo said they had guaranteed an extra 240 kg of fresh bamboo and bamboo shoots for the newcomers, as well as apples, carrots, milk powder and corn bread.

"The remaining 47 pandas at the Wolong base are all safe and sound, including 'Tuan Tuan' and 'Yuan Yuan', the panda couple expected to be sent to Taiwan," said Zhang.

The center might transfer more pandas to other habitats as 14 of their 32 pens were destroyed.

The Wolong center is deep in the hills north of Chengdu, the Sichuan provincial capital, along a winding, two-lane road that has been partially blocked by landslides.

(Xinhua News Agency May 25, 2008)

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