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Wednesday, April 7, 1999 Published at 17:11 GMT 18:11 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Panda killers jailed

Hanging on: Panda numbers in China are dwindling

Five farmers have been jailed for killing a rare giant panda in southwestern China.

The state news agency. Xinhua, said the five were sentenced to between one and five years and fined between 1,000 and 2,000 yuan ($125-$250) by a court in Chengdu, capital of the western province of Sichuan.

Yuan Rugang and Yang Tianbin killed the panda in April 1997, in rural Qingchuan County and sold the skin to Tian Zhongmu and Jiu Shengqiang, the agency reported.

The fifth defendant, Wang Xiuguang, was arrested taking the skin to Chengdu.

More than 60 pandas live in the Tangjiahe Giang Panda Nature Reserve in Qingchuan County and there are believed to be around 1,000 pandas left in the wild in China.

Panda rescue plan

China has launched a $36m scheme to try and save the giant panda from extinction.

Under the project, so-called green corridors will be established between isolated areas where pandas have survived by converting farmland and roads into bamboo forest.

Official reports into the Panda reveal that it is threatened principally by human encroachment while the increasing isolation of groups of pandas is diminishing the gene pool necessary for healthy offspring.

Other schemes which have attempted to encourage pandas to mate have failed because they are generally reluctant to reproduce when in captivity.

Some pandas, born through the use of artificial insemination techniques, have lived relatively short lives but scientists believe cloning , which led to the birth of Dolly the Sheep, the world's first cloned mamma, may hold more promise.

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