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Page last updated at 15:15 GMT, Tuesday, 13 May 2008 16:15 UK

Pandas 'safe' at park after quake

File image of two pandas having breakfast at the Wolong panda reserve
Sichuan's panda reserves have been named a Unesco World Heritage Site
The 86 giant pandas at China's famous Wolong Nature Reserve are all safe after Monday's earthquake devastated nearby areas of Sichuan province, forestry officials told the official Xinhua news agency.

All of the baby pandas at the reserve had been moved to safe places, the State Forestry Administration said on Tuesday.

The 2,000 sq km reserve is the nation's most famous giant panda park and is in a rugged area north-west of Sichuan's provincial capital, Chengdu, not far from the quake's epicentre.

It is the world's foremost conservation, research and breeding centre for giant pandas.

Dozens of the animals live within the reserve, which sits in bamboo forests on the slopes of 6,250-metre Mount Siguniang.

Chinese officials said that 60 giant pandas at a breeding centre in Chengdu and another eight at a smaller base in Ya'an, to the south, were not harmed by the earthquake.

Fears had been growing for the safety of the Wolong pandas after the earthquake cut all lines of communication with the reserve.

Rescue team

The giant panda remains one of the world's most endangered species.

Only about 1,600 pandas are thought to remain in the wild, in mountainous regions of Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces, while about 200 more live in captivity.

File image of baby pandas at the Wolong panda reserve
Dozens of pandas have been born in the Wolong reserve

The animals have been hit by a severe loss of habitat, as well as their own slow rate of reproduction.

In 2006, UN cultural agency Unesco declared the panda reserves in Sichuan a World Heritage Site.

Unesco says the reserves constitute "the largest remaining contiguous habitat of the giant panda... and the species' most important site for captive breeding".

Wolong is the most well-known of these reserves, attracting tens of thousands of tourists each year.

Its breeding programme, which includes the use of artificial insemination, has drawn worldwide attention.

Experts there have also experimented with releasing pandas born in captivity back into the wild.

In 2006, a young male panda, Xiang Xiang, was released into the wild after three years of preparation in a specially-constructed enclosure.

The panda died 10 months later, apparently after a fight with another male panda, but officials said that they had learned valuable lessons from the experiment.

Xinhua news agency said that a rescue team from the State Forestry Administration (SFA) had been set up to direct efforts at panda reserves.

The SFA has also allocated 2m yuan ($286,000; 143,000) to pay for food and drugs in affected reserves, it said.


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