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Giant pandas evacuated from quake-hit reserve
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Ten giant pandas from a breeding base in southwest China's Sichuan Province were evacuated on Tuesday to avoid threats from possible geological disasters after the May 12 massive earthquake.

Six were transported to the Bifengxia base in Ya'an, Sichuan, from the China Giant Panda Protection and Research Center's Hetaoping base in the Wolong nature reserve, only 30 km from the devastating quake's epicenter. Four were transported to a giant panda research center in Fuzhou, capital of the eastern Fujian Province.

Li Desheng, the center's deputy director, said the Wolong reserve faced severe secondary geological disasters as landslides and mud-rock flows had occurred frequently recently, posing a serious threat to the safety of the surviving bears.

"The bamboo forests, a major food for the animal, also suffered serious damage. Their food had to be transported from neighboring Ya'an, about 100 kilometers from Wolong if calculated in a direct line."

There were 63 giant pandas living in the Hetaoping base before the quake. One was killed in the quake while another remained missing.

Five giant panda workers were also killed in quake-triggered landslides in the Wolong reserve. Eighteen panda pens were destroyed and 14 others were severely damaged at the Hetaoping base.

The remaining 61, except for seven one-year-old cubs, will be moved to the Bifengxia base, the Fuzhou giant panda research center and the Panyu Zoo in Guangdong Province.

Eight were flown to Beijing on May 24 for a six-month stay. Eighteen were transported to the Bifengxia base last Wednesday.

Seven baby pandas born last year will be moved to safe areas in Wolong township as distant travel was not suitable for them, according to Li.

All the evacuations would be completed within one month. But the move did not mean they would be leaving Wolong forever, Li said.

From the respect of the climate, environment and plantation, the Wolong area has the most favorable conditions for the captive breeding and research of giant pandas, he said.

The center had already started a plan to build a more advanced breeding base in the Wolong nature reserve, he said. An initial location had been selected.

Workers have also begun the construction of 16 temporary pens and a kindergarten for baby pandas in the Bifengxia base. Twenty fixed pens, which are under construction, will all be completed in mid-October for the displaced pandas.

Wolong reserve has more than 150 pandas living in the wild. There are about 1,590 pandas living in the wild around the country, mostly in Sichuan and the northwestern provinces of Shaanxi and Gansu. Another 180 are being bred in captivity.

(Xinhua News Agency June 25, 2008)

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