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Giant pandas in Gansu: living or dead?
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According to a recent report from authorities at Baishuijiang National Nature Reserve in northwest China's Gansu Province, due to the 8.0-magnitude earthquake that struck Wenchuan, Sichuan Province, parts of the reserve districts were severely damaged. The current living conditions of 102 giant pandas inhabiting this area are still unknown

Living or dead?

When the earthquake hit Sichuan Province on May 12, a strong shock wave was also felt inside the Baishuijiang National Nature Reserve, 250 km away from the epicenter of Wenchuan. The shock measured 7.8-magnitude on the Richter scale.

When the earthquake struck, the Spring Field Investigation Team for Giant Pandas, composed of scientific and technical personnel from the nature reserve authority and local farmer guides, were in the process of conducting their annual spring field investigation on giant pandas living in the reserve.

According to investigation team members, when the earthquake hit, the ground and mountains in the reserve shook, rocks flew amidst landslides, the air was filled with dust, roars went resounding down the valleys, trees collapsed and animals screamed. Luckily, no one in the investigation group was hurt. After the earthquake, some badgers, known companions of the giant pandas, were found injured and some had even perished from flying stones inside the protected zone. To date it is still unknown whether any wild giant pandas have been injured.

Due to earthquake induced landslides, roads were blocked. Also, aftershocks have occurred continuously, so no staff members have been sent to make detailed investigations into the pandas' living conditions, said Huang Chenxiang, deputy director of the Baishuijiang Reserve Authority.

Baishuijiang Reserve Authority Director Huang Huali, listed their five concerns related to the conservation work:

Firstly, landslides caused trees to collapse in the reserve. This has not only changed the pandas' original habitat but has also blocked and/or destroyed their migration routes to some extent.

Secondly, landslides and boulders may have buried and/or smashed niitakayamensis – the sole food source for giant pandas.

Thirdly, it is likely that the caves where giant pandas live might be damaged and/or collapsed. Also the hollowed out trees which pandas also enjoy inhabiting may also be destroyed.

Fourthly, May is traditionally the time when giant pandas go into estrus and mate and breed. The earthquake might have impacted upon their mating and breeding cycle, especially those already embarked upon a 'honeymoon'.

Fifthly, in the reserve, 49 roads, running the entire length of 455 km, were seriously damaged. Protection stations, forest protection spots, check points, field monitoring points for giant pandas as well as fire prevention and communication equipment are all damaged in varying degrees. The same is true for the Giant Panda Museum, the Golden Monkey Museum, the Wildlife Asylum Museum and the Museum of Plants and Animals. Landslides near the reserve administrative office buildings created four cracks in the mountains, with the biggest measuring 60,100 cm wide.

Rescue work to be in full swing

After the earthquake on May 12, 16 members of the investigation team, trapped in mountainous terrain, went ahead with their work. The last group of team members did not return until May 16.

Huang Huali said that when the situation permitted, staff members would be sent to make detailed investigations on the giant panda habitats. To date, scientific and technical personnel, veterinarians and logistics personnel are currently prepared to set out with all kinds of equipment, tents, cookers and etc. They will proceed with their giant panda rescue work when given the go ahead.

(China.org.cn by Wang Wei, June 10, 2008)

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