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Bamboo damage from quake may cut wild panda breeding

DAMAGE to wild panda habitats in quake-stricken Sichuan Province will affect breeding by the endangered species although captive pandas' numbers are expected to increase this year, officials said yesterday.

"Wild pandas must store energy before moving to higher altitudes for reproduction between March and July, but most of the bamboo plants in their habitats were buried in the quake, making it difficult for wild pandas to find food," said Zhang Hemin, director of the China Giant Panda Protection and Research Center in the Wolong nature reserve.

"This will affect their reproduction. We are worried the birth rate will decrease this year," Zhang said.

To provide more food for pandas in the wild, the local government plans to move residents out of Wolong and plant more bamboo, but Zhang said it would take at least five years to achieve a satisfactory vegetation level.

The nature reserve is home to about 150 wild pandas, about 10 percent of China's total.

Experts are monitoring the pandas with infrared cameras. Research showed forested areas 2,500 meters above sea level, the core of the wild pandas' habitat, were only slightly damaged.

Zhang said the captive pandas are expected to recover from the trauma of the quake and give birth to more young ones this year.

"I'm not sure how many pandas will be born this year, but I'm confident the number will be larger than that of last year, which was 13," he said.

The 8-magnitude quake last May left one panda dead, one injured and another missing. After the quake, most of the captive pandas in the reserve were moved to the Bifengxia breeding base in Ya'an City and zoos elsewhere.

Only six pandas, each about 18 months old, are now living in prefabricated facilities in the reserve.

Construction of a new China Giant Panda Protection and Research Center will start before August. The new base, also in Wolong, will be located in the Huangcaoping area, about 10 kilometers from the old site, Zhang said.

"We selected Huangcaoping because the environment, water, weather and geological conditions there are the best," Zhang said. "The pandas will be comfortable, as it is not far from the former base."

The state-level protection and research center was built in 1980. As the world's largest breeding center for the endangered species, it is home to about 60 percent of the world's total panda population.


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