June 24, 2008

Post-Quake Threats Drive China To Evacuate Remaining Pandas

All remaining giant pandas at a major breeding base in China's earthquake-devastated Sichuan Province will be evacuated as landslides and other post-quake dangers remain a significant threat, China's Chengdu Business Daily reported Tuesday.

The decision to evacuate the pandas followed conclusions by experts that Sichuan province's terrain was still too hazardous for the Pandas and their keepers.

"The threats to safety from geological hazards in the Hetaoping Center's location are very large," the experts said, according to the report, which was also circulated on local news websites.

Some of the pandas at the Hetaoping Research and Conservation Center China's mountainous Wolong nature reserve will be moved to nearby breeding center.   Others, the report said, would be placed in temporary homes in the southern and eastern regions of the country.

"The pandas raised in enclosures at Hetaoping will all be temporarily dispersed until the new Wolong panda breeding centre is built," Chengdu Business Daily quoted the officials as saying.

The Panda's fate has become a postscript to the human death and destruction caused by the May 12 earthquake, in which nearly 70,000 were killed and many thousands are still missing and likely dead.  

Earlier this month, China's official Xinhua news agency reported that at least eight percent of the endangered pandas' habitat was destroyed.

There are only 1,590 pandas live in the wild today, all in China.   About 1,400 Pandas were in the part of Sichuan province affected by the May 12 earthquake.

The report said thirteen pandas at Hetaoping had already been relocated to another center at Ya'an in Sichuan, and the facility is preparing to receive another 27 adults and cubs.  An additional 19 pandas would be moved to a breeding and research center in Sichuan's provincial capital of Chengdu, a panda research center in eastern China, and a zoo in the nation's southern region.

Seven cubs born last year will be kept in the Wolong reserve.  The report said constructing the new breeding center there would take another two to three years.