April 20, 2009

China Starts Construction Of Panda Breeding Center

As early as next month, Chinese authorities will begin the construction of a new mega-breeding facility for giant pandas in the Wolong nature reserve, says the official Xinhua news agency.

The announcement came after last year's 8.0-magnitude earthquake leveled much of their former habitat in a protected region of the southwestern Sichuan province where most of their captive pandas had previously been held.

The reserve's Communist party boss Huang Jianhua revealed that the new base would be located about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the former site and that the new site had been selected on account of its optimal environmental conditions.

"The pandas will be comfortable living here as it is not far from the former base," explained Huang.  "Safety is the priority," he later added.

Estimated costs for the new center are currently at a whopping 1.6 billion yuan, (or 230 million US dollars), with national authorities in Hong Kong footing the majority of the bill, said Huang.

Last year's quake killed five staff members and one panda, while an additional two pandas were seriously injured and one remains missing.

Following the May 12 disaster, most of the pandas were temporarily transported to a breeding nearby center in Ya'an City, while others were taken to various other zoos around the country.  The report said that six of the young pandas remained behind in small houses on the reserve.

The Wolong facility first opened in 1980 as the largest panda breeding center in the world and a home for other endangered species.  The reserve was home to 142 captive pandas "“ some 60 percent of the world's total population.

Experts estimate that there are about 1,600 non-captive pandas living in the wild in China,  the majority of them inhabiting the Sichuan province, as well as northern parts of the Shaanxi and Gansu provinces.