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Work to start soon on new panda breeding center

CHINA will begin building a new breeding center for giant pandas around May to replace the former quake-leveled habitat in southwestern China's Sichuan Province.

The Wolong Panda Breeding Center, near Sichuan's capital of Chengdu, was almost destroyed by the May 12 earthquake last year, which left 90,000 people dead or missing.

The 8.0-magnitude quake killed at least one panda at the Wolong breeding center.

The new China Giant Panda Protection and Research Center will be located in the Huangcaoping area, about 10 kilometers from the former facility.

The new base is also in the Wolong nature reserve devastated by the earthquake, according to Huang Jianhua, Party chief of the nature reserve administration.

The new panda base includes 25 projects funded by Hong Kong, totaling about 1.3 billion yuan (US$191 million), and 19 projects funded by the state forestry administration, totaling about 270 million yuan.

"We selected the Huangcaoping area because the environment, water, weather and geological situations there are the best," Huang said. "The pandas will be comfortable living in the new base as it is not far from the former base."

The Wolong reserve, which was 10 kilometers from the earthquake epicenter, suffered severe damage when the quake struck last year.

Most of the 63 pandas in the reserve were moved to the Bifengxia breeding base in Ya'an City and zoos elsewhere around the country after the disaster.

Only six pandas around 18 months old are living in prefabricated houses in the reserve.

The state-level protection and research center was built in 1980. As the world's largest breeding center for the endangered species, it had 142 captive pandas.

The Wolong preserve was at the heart of China's gargantuan effort to use captive breeding and artificial insemination to save giant pandas.

In addition, building of a panda disease control and prevention center will also be launched soon and is expected to be completed in 2010 in Dujiangyan, a city near Chengdu, Huang said.

In the future, pandas in any breeding base in China will be transferred there for treatment if they contract infectious diseases.

There are about 1,590 pandas living in the wild around the country, mostly in Sichuan and the northwestern provinces of Shaanxi and Gansu.

Another 180 are being bred in captivity, many of them at Wolong, and scores have been loaned to foreign zoos overseas, with the revenue helping to fund conservation programs.


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