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Trapped tiger, lions saved from quake-area
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The mission to rescue one white tiger and two white lions from earthquake-hit Shifang City's wild park were finally accomplished Friday in southwest China's Sichuan Province.

At 10:20 AM on Friday morning, a helicopter landed on Guanghan airport amid the cheers, carrying a cage with the tiger in it. At 11: 40 AM and 14:10 PM, two lions were also evacuated separately.

The wild animals were soon transported to Bifengxia Zoo in Ya'an City escorted by soldiers, officials and a special zoo expert team, Sichuan's portal Scol.com.cn reported.

Shifang Municipal Quake Relief and Rescue Headquarters contacted an airborne force on June 8 for the surviving animals, who were almost starved to death since May 12 Wenchuan earthquake. They, and Happy Valley park's staffers and breeders cooperated to initiate a rescue mission soon.

"We are under great stress; if we don't succeed, I don't know what to tell the people who are concerned with these animals," said Zhou Dong, the park's director.

Besides the two lions and one tiger, Shifang City's Forest Bureau Director Wei Lai said that another tiger was shot by soldiers because the tiger might easily escape from its cave when the earthquake damaged the keeping building. Another lion was starved to death.

"We never gave up even though it was so hard. I was deeply moved. It shows that our sense of protecting animals is improving," Wei added.

According to the report, the animals were injected with a minimum of narcotics since they were too weak. Wangguan Group, the parent company of the park, will collaborate with the International Fund for Animal Welfare to take care of the tiger and lions.

The rescue efforts were initially planned on June 11. However, due to the valley climate, the mission failed that day with one chopper making forced landing due to mechanical malfunction, 3 on board were injured, including one injured critically. The weather didn't turn out good on June 12, so the mission was postponed for one more day.

About 30 rescuers crowded under a big umbrella for two days. Those three animals also had wood cover on their cages to shield off the rain. At least 4 stayed awake, watching the cages in case any dangerous mudslides would happen. It seemed that the lions had better spirit than the tiger, and they roared and scratched the cage until their paws bled. On June 13, the rescuers eventually accomplished the mission when the weather turned favorable.

(China.org.cn by Keen Zhang, June 15, 2008)

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