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Panda Reserves Set up in Shaanxi

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Northwest China's Shaanxi Province has set up two more national level nature reserves to protect the habitat for a rare giant panda species unique to the Qinling Mountain Range, environment authorities said Monday.

The new reserves bring the province's total to six in the Qinling Mountains, said Li Xiaolian, deputy chief of the provincial environment protection department.

One of the new reserves, the Sangyuan Nature Reserve, covered 13,806 hectares in Liuba County of Hanzhong City, in the heartland of the Qinling Mountains, Li told a press conference Monday.

"Its forest coverage is 99.4 percent and it has a rich resource of bamboo, including arrow bamboo -- the giant pandas' favorite food," said Li.

At least seven giant pandas were recorded in the Sangyuan reserve in the third national census of the endangered species, which lasted from 1999 to 2003.

The newly established Qingmuchuan Nature Reserve was named after a small town at the juncture of Shaanxi, Gansu and Sichuan provinces, Li said. "The 10,200-hectare area is home to giant pandas, golden monkeys, takins, vultures and leopards."

The four existing nature reserves for giant pandas -- Foping, Changqing, Taibai and Zhouzhi -- had proven exemplary in preserving the habitat for the giant pandas and maintaining biodiversity in the Qinling Mountains, he said.

Foping reserve, founded in 1978 on the southern slopes of Qinling, has 110 to 130 giant pandas, the largest density among all China's nature reserves.

Forestry workers at the reserve spotted a panda cub in a cave only last week. The cub, weighing about 3 kilograms, was whining like a pup and had learned to crawl, said Liang Qihui, a senior engineer of the Foping Nature Reserve.

Pandas were first spotted in the Qinling Mountains in 1964, a century after the bears were reported in Sichuan, home to most of China's pandas.

Compared with their peers in Sichuan, Qinling pandas are smaller in population -- approximately 300 compared with more than1,300 other pandas living elsewhere in China.

These pandas also have smaller skeletal frames, larger side teeth and traces of brown instead of the typical black-and-white on other pandas.

(Xinhua News Agency December 8, 2009)

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