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China marks 140th anniversary of giant panda's 'discovery'
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Giant panda enthusiasts in China set out for a hike Saturday in southwestern Sichuan Province to retrace the steps of a French missionary who made the animal known to the West 140 years ago.

Altogether 20 hikers from around the country departed from the West China Medical School of Sichuan University in Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan. They passed health checks before the 350-km journey that will have not only beautiful sceneries but also steep, dangerous mountain paths.

They were expected to arrive at the destination, the Ya'an Bifengxia Breeding Base of the China Giant Panda Protection and Research Center of the Wolong Nature Reserve, on Aug. 25.

Pere Jean Pierre Armand David, the French Catholic missionary, introduced giant panda to the Western world after taking photographs of it in 1869 in Sichuan's Ya'an City.

"We hope to, through the activity, spread the knowledge of environmental protection and invite more people to join in the protection of endangered giant pandas and other wild animals at large," said Yang Guang, the hike organizer.

About 1,590 pandas live in the wild in China, mostly in Sichuan and the northwest provinces of Shaanxi and Gansu. Another 180 have been bred in captivity, including 88 pandas in Ya'an and 56 outside Sichuan Province.

The panda protection center moved its animals from Wolong, about 130 km northwest of Chengdu, to Bifengxia after the devastating earthquake on May 12 last year. A new breeding center is being built at Wolong to replace the quake-damaged habitat.

In addition to the hike, a week-long festival of more than 40 films featuring giant pandas and other wildlife will start in Ya'an on Aug. 19 to mark the 140th anniversary of their discovery by the outside world, the organizers have said.

(Xinhua News Agency August 16, 2009)

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