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Last Updated: Monday, 10 November, 2003, 10:37 GMT
Food factory for China's pandas

Francis Markus
BBC in Shanghai

China has built a biscuit factory to cater exclusively to its captive giant pandas, giving them a more healthy choice than the usual steamed bread.

A researcher at a key breeding centre in the south-west of the country told the BBC the bamboo-shaped biscuits have more fibre and vitamins.

giant pandas
The biscuits should provide a nutritious diet for pandas in captivity

They have apparently gone down well among the pandas and experts plan to expand the idea to animals in captivity across the country.

The black and white face of the giant panda has long been a symbol of China's wildlife, but the estimated 1,000 animals left in the wild are munching their way through dwindling bamboo reserves.

Finding a nutritious diet for those in captivity has always been a headache.

Researchers at the Giant Panda Breeding and Research Centre in the city of Chengdu, say the factory they have set up is baking long, thin bamboo-shaped biscuits.

They've got more vitamins and more fibre than the steamed bread that's been a staple up to now, and they've apparently gone down well with the 40 or so pandas at the centre.

But it remains to be seen if a satisfying dinner will help ease the pandas' perennial reluctance at the mating game.

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