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China to Relocate Major Panda Conservation Center Havocked in Quake

The panda conservation and research center in Wolong, China's most famous reserve for the endangered bears, will be relocated due to damage and the potential danger of landslide caused by the May 12 earthquake, the authority confirmed on Tuesday.

"We will build shelters, a panda research center and a breeding center at a new site because of safety concerns," said Li Desheng, vice director of the Conservation and Research Center of the Wolong Nature Reserve for Giant Pandas. He said the new center would still be located within the Wolong Nature Reserve, deep in the hills north of Chengdu, capital of the southwestern Sichuan Province, whose humid climate was favorable for bamboo, pandas' favorite food.

"When deciding the locality of the new site, we will take into consideration the security and climate factors, including its ecological sustainability and the location of water source and bamboo forests," he said.

Wolong Nature Reserve, home to more than 150 giant pandas in the wild, sustained severe damage from the powerful quake. Five staff at the base were killed.

Fourteen of the 32 panda pens in Wolong were destroyed and the rest were damaged. Two pandas were hurt by the quake and one was still missing.

Where to relocate the pandas in Sichuan remained a hot issue after the quake. Rebuilding the houses at the present base was one option, but opposition voices said the animals would be at risk from landslides.

"According to the appraisal of an expert team, it is not appropriate to rebuild the damaged low-lying panda shelters and research center at the present site base because the aftershocks may bring secondary disasters, such as the landslides," Li said.

Currently 48 captive pandas live in Wolong after six were sent to Ya'an Panda Base, which suffered less damage in the earthquake. This was to relieve the pressure on the base. Another eight were airlifted to Beijing to bring cheer to the Olympic Games.

There are about 1,590 pandas living in the wild in China, mostly in Sichuan and the northwestern provinces of Shaanxi and Gansu. Another 180 are being bred in captivity.

(Xinhua News Agency June 11, 2008)

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