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December 8, 2009

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Panda reserves set up in Shaanxi

SHAANXI Province in northwest China has set up two more national level nature reserves to protect the habitat of a rare giant panda species unique to the Qinling Mountain Range, environment authorities said yesterday.

The new reserves bring the province's total to six in the Qinling Mountains, said Li Xiaolian, deputy chief of the provincial environment protection department.

One of the new reserves, the Sangyuan Nature Reserve, covers 13,806 hectares in Liuba County of Hanzhong City, in the heartland of the Qinling Mountains, Li said in Xi'an, the provincial capital.

"Its forest coverage is 99.4 percent with a lot of bamboo trees, including arrow bamboo - the favorite food of giant pandas," Li said.

At least seven giant pandas were seen in the Sangyuan reserve between 1999 and 2003 during the third census of the endangered species.

The newly established Qingmuchuan Nature Reserve was named after a small town at the juncture of Shaanxi, Gansu and Sichuan provinces, Li said. "The 10,200-hectare area is home to giant pandas, golden monkeys, takins, vultures and leopards."

Cub spotted

The four existing nature reserves for giant pandas - Foping, Changqing, Taibai and Zhouzhi - have been effective in preserving the species' habitat and maintaining biodiversity in the Qinling Mountains, he said.

Foping Nature Reserve was founded in 1978 on the southern slopes of Qinling and has 110 to 130 giant pandas, the most among the country's nature reserves.

Forestry workers at the reserve spotted a panda cub in a cave alone last week. The cub, weighing about 3 kilograms, was whining like a pup and had learned to crawl, said Liang Qihui, a senior engineer of the Foping reserve.

Pandas were first spotted in the Qinling Mountains in 1964, one century after the bears were reported in Sichuan, home to most of China's pandas.

There are about 300 pandas in the Qinling Mountains compared to more than 1,300 in other parts of the country.

Qinling pandas have smaller skeletal frames, larger side teeth and traces of brown instead of the typical black-and-white fur seen on other pandas.


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