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Giant Pandas Suffer Post-quake Trauma

Si Jia stood on her hind legs trying to snatch her milk bowl from a zoo keeper's hand. During the tug of war the metal container fell and gave out a loud bang when hitting the ground. All three giant pandas in the area were scared away.

For at least a week, the pandas feared the zoo keeper and his bowl.

In their new home at the Wild Life Park in Kunming, in southwest China's Yunnan Province, Si Jia, Mei Qian and Qian Qian still need time to heal from the trauma inflicted by the devastating May 12 earthquake.

The 8.0-magnitude quake damaged their former homes at the Wolong nature reserve in Sichuan Province where more than 150 pandas lived. Fourteen of the 32 pens were destroyed and six pandas went missing, one of whom was later found dead.

The three pandas, all female and less than two years old, were rescued from their hideout in the trees and sent to the Ya'an base in Sichuan, an area less affected by the earthquake.

Still haunted by the continuous aftershocks and landslides, they had to travel again toward the end of June to Kunming where they would spend two years to heal from their psychological trauma. Their main caregiver, zoo keeper Xiao Yi from Wolong, followed them to Kunming.

Two weeks after arrival, the pandas were getting used to the new place.

When they feel safe enough, the three pandas will enjoy themselves in the playground. "They rolled all the way down the slope and stacked themselves up, one on top of another," Xiao said. "But they were extremely scared of loud noises."

When thunder struck on Saturday night, they all woke up startled, trying to get out of their pen. "At last they huddled together and trembled in the corner," Xiao said. "They were like that when strong aftershocks were felt and landslides occurred back in Sichuan."

Before the Sichuan quake, the young pandas were never scared of thunder. "They occasionally opened their eyes but would soon fall asleep again," Xiao said.

To console the pandas Xiao and colleagues always pat them before and during their meals, tenderly call their pet names and talk with them in Sichuan dialect. "We need to show extra care. Let's hope time will eventually heal."

Shortly after the quake, eight pandas from the Wolong base were airlifted to Beijing Zoo where they will stay through the Olympics. Another five were transferred to the Xiangjiang Safari Park in southern Guangzhou.

Experts and authorities are working on plans to rebuild the Wolong center, only 30 km from the quake's epicenter Wenchuan. The latest plan proposes relocation of the center from its Hetaoping base to Huangcaoping, involving an investment of 2 billion yuan (US$290 million).

The plan, proposed by the Wolong reserve, Beijing University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, includes a lab, a panda hospital, a 1,500-square meter cub pen and a bamboo cultivation area. If approved, the rebuilding would hopefully be completed in 2015.

(Xinhua News Agency July 15, 2008)

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