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Pandas evacuated from earthquake area
China Quake Pandas 5461871
In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, a giant panda takes a shower near another after arriving at Fuzhou Giant Panda Protection and Research Center in Fuzhou, southeast China's Fujian Province, Tuesday, June 24, 2008. Pandas living in earthquake-hit southwest China are facing a food shortage and some have been evacuated to temporary shelters because of the continuing threat of landslides and other hazards, an official said Tuesday. - photo by Associated Press
    BEIJING — Pandas living in earthquake-hit southwest China are facing a food shortage and some have been evacuated to temporary shelters because of the threat of landslides and other hazards, an official said Tuesday.
    Only seven pandas of the original 63 are left in the Wolong Nature Reserve deep in the lush mountains of Sichuan province, close to the epicenter of last month’s magnitude-7.9 temblor, said Zhang Hemin, director of the Wolong Panda Breeding Center.
    Their usual diet of bamboo is being supplemented by milk and biscuits because so much of the local bamboo was either damaged or destroyed by the quake, Zhang said.
    Most of the other pandas have been moved or are en route to other habitats ‘‘because of the threat of possible geological disasters, including landslides,’’ he said.
    ‘‘We’re trying to get them to safety,’’ Zhang said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
    The Wolong preserve is at the heart of China’s gargantuan effort to use captive breeding and artificial insemination to save the giant panda, which is revered as an unofficial national mascot.
    Only about 1,600 pandas live in the wild, mostly in Sichuan. An additional 180 have been bred in captivity, many of them at Wolong, and scores have been loaned or given to zoos abroad, with the revenues helping fund conservation programs.
    June marks the start of the annual rainy season, which routinely causes the region’s fast flowing streams to flood their banks. Landslides are a particular concern because the quake caused hillsides to shear away and crash into river valleys below.
    Many slopes remain unstable and are at high risk of being washed away by storms.
    The pandas’ new homes include the Bifengxia Giant Panda Base about 75 miles outside Sichuan’s provincial capital of Chengdu, another breeding center in Chengdu itself, and facilities in the eastern province of Fujian and the southern province of Guangdong, Zhang said.
    The transfer, which began last week, should be complete by early July, he said.
    It’s not clear if the remaining seven pandas will be relocated too but officials at Wolong have said they want to find a new home for the reserve, but cannot do so until geologists completely assess the damage.
    Wolong and 48 other wildlife reserves in Sichuan were heavily damaged by the May 12 quake, which destroyed enclosures and administrative buildings and sent rocks, soil and vegetation crashing down hillsides and into river valleys.
    One panda was killed in Wolong, just 20 miles away from the epicenter, and another remains missing. It was not known how many wild pandas died.
    ‘‘They were nervous right after the quake but have recovered,’’ Zhang said.
    The quake hit during what the Chinese delicately call the ‘‘falling in love period,’’ a 24-to-72-hour window each spring when female pandas are fertile. More than a dozen captive pandas were artificially inseminated and an unknown number of wild pandas may have gotten pregnant and should be eating more, state media said.
    Wolong has shipped up to 17,600 pounds of bamboo each week to Ya’an to feed the pandas, which usually eat around 110 pounds of the plant a day, Zhang said.
    ‘‘Now we feed them about 33 pounds of bamboo a day,’’ he said. ‘‘In addition, we give them milk and biscuits, which they also enjoy eating.’’
    ‘‘There’s no apparent change in their weight yet,’’ Zhang said.
    The official Xinhua News Agency reported earlier this week that some 67 giant pandas living in the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Research Base were also on a diet after bamboo forests in surrounding areas were damaged.
    Breeders were supplementing meals with feed and fruit, Xinhua said.
    Forestry officials have said that about 80 percent of Sichuan’s panda habitat suffered some degree of damage from the quake.
    Suzanne Gendron, executive director for zoological operations and education in Ocean Park Hong Kong, said it is important to ensure that the pandas receive enough protein through alternate foods like apples, pears, carrots and even on occasion, meat.
    ‘‘With the limited food supply, the keepers will want to substitute more of the alternatives but continue to feed the bamboo,’’ Gendron said. ‘‘A vigilant watch on the pandas nutrients and proteins should keep them healthy as the bamboo and surroundings recover.’’
    Ocean Park is home to two pandas who were given to Hong Kong in 1999.

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