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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 July 2006, 21:48 GMT 22:48 UK
Pandas gain world heritage status
Giant panda eating bambo (Image: David Sheppard/IUCN)
Extra aid will help protect pandas' habitat (David Sheppard/IUCN)
A mountain sanctuary in China which is home to about a third of the world's giant panda population has been designated a World Heritage site.

The region in Sichuan province, with an area of more than 9,000 sq km (3,475 sq miles) can now qualify for aid to help manage and protect the pandas.

Giant pandas are one of the world's most endangered species.

Other World Heritage sites include Egypt's Pyramids, Stonehenge in Britain and the Great Wall of China.

The World Heritage Committee - which comes under the United Nations cultural organisation, Unesco - has been meeting in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, to consider which sites to add to a list that already includes some 800 locations.

Rare species

A Unesco spokesperson said the pandas must be protected.

"It is the largest remaining contiguous habitat of the giant panda and the most important captive breeding ground for the animal," Reuters news agency quoted the official as saying.

Gaining world heritage status means the Chinese authorities are obliged to protect the bamboo-covered mountainous area.

The move was welcomed by Chinese conservationists.

"To protect an animal is not just putting it living in the zoo, but keeping it alive in its home," Lu Zhi, a panda specialist at Peking University told China's official Xinhua news agency.

The sanctuaries are also home to other endangered animals such as the red panda, the snow leopard and the clouded leopard.

Giant pandas are one of the world's most endangered species.

Only about 1,600 remain in the wild, with another 180 living in captivity.

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