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New home sought for Wolong's giant pandas
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Panda keeper He Changgui, (front), and his colleagues at Wolong National Nature Reserve, mourn on Tuesday for Mao Mao, a panda killed in the quake. [Photo: AP]

A new location is being sought for China's best-known panda conservation and research center, officials have said.

Huang Jianhua, deputy head of the Wolong National Nature Reserve's post-disaster reconstruction team, said the center will comprise research and breeding facilities, as well as accommodation for these rare bears.

Three criteria will be used to select the site: safety, climate and ecological carrying capacity, which includes how much water and bamboo there is available, he said.

The site will remain within the Wolong nature reserve, however, which is deep in the hills north of Chengdu and has a humid climate that is favorable for bamboo, pandas' favorite food, Huang said.

Disaster evaluation and reconstruction planning are currently under way, he said.

The original site was ruled out for redevelopment due to fears of aftershocks that might bring secondary disasters, such as landslides, he said.

Five workers from the Wolong reserve were killed in the May 12 quake, as was a 9-year-old female giant panda, Mao Mao. Fourteen of the 32 pens were destroyed.

Mao Mao was found dead on Monday in her pen, which had been engulfed by a landslide. She was buried on Tuesday and a funeral was held.

Her three cubs, aged between 1 and 3, were all found alive beside her.

They will now be raised by hand, Li Desheng, vice-director of reserve's conservation and research center, said.

Eight Wolong pandas were recently sent to Beijing Zoo where they will stay until after the Olympics.

Six others were sent to the less-affected Ya'an base in Chengdu, provincial capital of Sichuan and 48 stayed at Wolong. The reserve has more than 150 pandas living in the wild, but their condition is as yet unknown.

Xian Fanghai from the Tangjiahe nature reserve in Sichuan was quoted by the Guangzhou Daily as saying 15 pandas have already been found dead.

Despite having State protection, the bears' habitat has been badly affected and Xian said he feared for the other wild pandas.

(Xinhua News Agency, China Daily, June 12, 2008)

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