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Giant panda habitat damaged
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Wild giant pandas in Southwest China are facing a bleak future with their habitat destroyed by the May 12 Sichuan quake, nature reserve authorities said yesterday in Beijing.

Natural resources, especially the habitat of the giant panda, were seriously damaged by the temblor, the State Forestry Administration (SFA) said.

As of June 3, the quake had resulted in a direct economic loss of 23 billion yuan ($3.3 billion) of forest resources and protection facilities, among which 870 million yuan were lost with damage to the Wolong nature reserve, the largest conservation area for giant pandas, said SFA deputy director Yin Hong.

The quake affected 1.9 million hectares, or 83 percent of the country's total panda habitat, SFA figures showed.

The quake also damaged the habitats of many other wild animals in the region, officials said.

About 8.3 percent of the pandas' habitat was completely destroyed. One panda died in Wolong nature reserve from the quake and another is still missing, Yin said.

"Currently, the biggest obstacle for forest rangers is that they cannot reach the pandas' habitat because of blocked roads," said Yan Xun, chief engineer of the SFA's wildlife conservation department.

"We still do not have first-hand information about the wild panda population."

"There must have been wild pandas crushed to death during the quake and in the aftershocks," Yan said.

"But we do not have the number."

Yan said the main worry is the impact of the damaged ecology on panda conservation in the long term.

Caves and tree hollows where pandas live might be damaged by the tremor, he said.

The routes the bears used to take to find food might also be blocked, hampering the bears' movement to safer areas as well. The obstructions might also prohibit the pandas' mating, since they usually live alone.

There are now plans to include an ecological corridor and passages in reconstruction efforts to make it more convenient for the bears to find a mate, Yan said.

Water resources in the pandas' habitat have also been polluted, while some of the bamboo species that serve as the bears' staple have been buried or destroyed.

After a major earthquake in Sichuan in 1976, bamboo in the area flowered and died in large patches, causing a food shortage for pandas.

The impact of earthquakes on bamboo flowering has not been proven, but the authorities said they will still monitor conditions in the area, particularly those of the plant.

"It is still too dangerous for our staff to go into the field. When conditions allow, we will search the area and see if there are injured pandas that need help," Yan said.

"Currently, transport, GPS and monitoring equipment are urgently needed in the Wolong nature reserve."

(China Daily June 13, 2008)

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