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Giant Panda Saved from Dogs in SW China
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A giant panda who went astray and was being chased by dogs has been saved and escorted home by villagers and forestry workers in southwest China's Sichuan Province, home to most of the endangered animals.

The panda, a five-year-old female, was seen being chased by several barking dogs on a hill in Yuexi county of the Yi Autonomous Prefecture of Liangshan last Sunday morning, said Gong Tianjian, head of the Shenguozhuang Nature Reserve for Giant Pandas.

Gong and his colleagues assumed the panda had lost her way and wandered out of the reserve.

"Six villagers from Shenpu Village happened to be herding sheep nearby and immediately drove the dogs away," Gong told Xinhua in an interview Friday. "Two of them ran down the hill to report to local forestry officials and the other four stayed behind to keep an eye on the panda and wait for help."

The place is 150 kilometers from the county seat and the rescue team sent by the county government arrived at 8:30 PM, he said.

A preliminary checkup showed the giant panda weighed 75 kilos and was more scared than wounded. She was hospitalized at the rescue center of the nature reserve for two days and was released to the wild Wednesday afternoon, said Chen Fulin, an official with the government of Liangshan prefecture.

As Wednesday was the annual "Torch Day" celebrated by the Yi people, some locals joked the giant panda was there for the holiday too, which is considered the local version of Valentine's Day.

Shenguozhuang nature reserve, located on the eastern section of the Hengduan Mountain Range, has an average altitude of 3,000 meters. It is home to giant pandas, red pandas, black bears and dozens of rare animal species.

In the ethnic Yi dialect, "Shenguozhuang" translates into "ancient expanse of forest".

The giant panda is one of the world's most endangered species. About 1,590 pandas live in the wild in the mountains of Sichuan and Shaanxi provinces and another 180 are kept in zoos all over the world.

The giant panda's Sichuan Province habitat is a 9,510 square kilometers area which includes the world-renowned Wolong nature reserve. The habitat is home to at least 300 giant pandas and a variety of endangered flora.

Last week, members of the 30th session of the World Heritage Committee agreed to put the giant panda habitat on the World Heritage List.

(Xinhua News Agency July 24, 2006)


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