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8 pandas evacuated from China quake zone
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Eight giant pandas were evacuated from a breeding base in southwest China's Sichuan Province Thursday to avoid threats from possible geological disasters after the devastating May 12 earthquake.

Three two-year-old females, Si Jia, Mei Qian and Qian Qian, were greeted with applause and flowers when they arrived at the Yunnan Wild Animals Park late Thursday afternoon in Kunming, capital of Yunnan Province.

They would stay in their new home and specially-built pens for two years, said Guo Huijun, Yunnan Provincial Forestry Department deputy head.

The park boasts more than 10,000 animals covering 110 species, including two giant pandas brought from Sichuan last year.

"Yunnan has a climate and environment similar to Sichuan. I believe they will spend the two years happily," said Xiao Yi, a panda handler.

Also Thursday, five three-year-old pandas were transferred to the Xiangjiang Safari Park in Guangzhou, capital of the southern Guangdong Province.

It was expected they would stay in the park for three years, said Dong Guixin, the park's general manager.

On Tuesday, 10 giant pandas were moved out of the China Giant Panda Protection and Research Center in Sichuan's Wolong nature reserve, only 30 km from the epicenter.

There were 63 giant pandas living in the breeding base before the quake. One was killed while another remained missing. Eighteen panda pens were destroyed and 14 others severely damaged.

The remaining 61 bears, except for seven one-year-old cubs, have been or will be moved out of the center to other suitable places, said Li Desheng, the center's deputy director.

Li said the Wolong reserve faced severe secondary geological disasters as landslides and mud-rock flows had occurred frequently recently, posing a serious threat to the safety of the surviving animals.

Seven baby pandas born last year will be moved to safe areas in Wolong Township as distant travel was not suitable for them, according to Li.

All the evacuations would be completed within one month, he said.

The Wolong reserve has more than 150 pandas living in the wild. There are about 1,590 pandas living in the wild around the country, mostly in Sichuan and the northwestern provinces of Shaanxi and Gansu. Another 180 are in captivity.

The 8.0-magnitude quake centered in Sichuan's Wenchuan County on May 12 has left more than 80,000 people dead or missing and millions homeless. More than 14,000 aftershocks have been reported after the devastating quake, with the strongest measuring 6.4 on the Richter scale.

(Xinhua News Agency June 27, 2008)

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