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US group vows more panda help

AN American environmental organization will continue its giant panda conservation efforts in southwest China despite the pending completion of its "Kung Fu Panda" project in June, its chairman said yesterday.

Peter Seligmann, chairman and chief executive of Washington D.C.-based Conservation International, said CI will continue to work on encouraging local farmers to take part in panda protection and build larger corridors to connect different areas of land inhabited by pandas.

Zhang Li, the technical director of the CI China program, said CI will work with international partners, including McDonald's and United Technologies Corporation, to provide technical and financial support for reforestation and land use management, and the reconstruction of 18 panda corridors.

Previous statistics show that there were about 1,590 pandas living in the wild around the country, mostly in Sichuan and the northwestern provinces of Shaanxi and Gansu.

After the 8.0-magnitude quake on last May 12, the forest coverage in quake-hit areas in Sichuan dropped by nearly 2 percentage points to 42.6 percent while 11.6 percent of the corridors were cut, said Luo Zengbin, deputy head of the Sichuan Provincial Forestry Department in December.

CI identified 18 important panda corridors in Sichuan for the local government's plan for panda habitat reconstruction.

The organization last year launched the "Kung Fu Panda" project together with DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc, which made the worldwide animated blockbuster, right after the quake to develop a strategy for increasing conservation efforts for the panda in Sichuan.

DreamWorks and its chief executive, Jeffrey Katzenberg, invested US$1 million in the project, Seligmann said.

"The concept of DreamWorks is to launch a one-year project to get a sense of how many wild pandas are there and begin training local communities," he said.

The organization has sent teams of investigators to conduct a census on panda distribution. They have surveyed big habitats and "isolated land" where small populations of giant pandas live and trained local nature reserves staff members about monitoring skills.


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