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China Vows to Better Protect Giant Panda Habitat
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The possible influx of tourists will not threaten the habitat of giant pandas that was listed as a World Heritage Site on Wednesday, local officials said.


Tourists will no longer be allowed to visit some core areas of the habitat although they were permitted to do so before the heritage listing, said Hu Bin, deputy director of the tourism department of southwest China's Sichuan Province, at a press conference on Friday.


The new World Heritage Site is a giant panda habitat stretching in the Qionglai mountain chain.


The habitat covers nine scenic spots and eight natural reserves, where about 300 giant pandas and other rare wildlife species live on a total area of 9,510 square kilometers.


Citing the province's successful experience in protecting Jiuzhaigou, a world natural heritage site listed in 1992, Hu said Sichuan Province is able to offset the pressure on the panda habitat caused by tourists' influx.


Hu said the scenic resort of Jiuzhaigou has set an example for the province to follow in seeking balance between tourism development and heritage protection.


The province will set up world heritage management offices of various administrative levels in the giant panda habitat area to coordinate protection efforts on the rare animal.


Tourists can enter no more than one percent of the total area of Wolong, a well-known reserve where a topnotch giant panda research center lies, said Zhang Liming, an official with the Wolong reserve.


In the future, the protection will aim to incorporate separated habitats and enlarge the genetic bank of giant pandas, said Cui Xuezhen, former director of the Fengtongzhai natural reserve.


"The current giant panda habitats are separated by rivers and roads, which make it almost impossible for them to migrate," Cui said.


China launched a program named "the giant panda ecological corridor" in 1987 to plant bamboo forests among the relatively isolated giant panda habitat areas so that they will be connected.


Local governments are also removing factories and buildings from the domain of giant pandas.


(Xinhua News Agency July 15, 2006)

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