Mon, Apr 20, 2009 - Page 4 News List

China plans new base to save pandas

ENDANGERED SPECIES With only about 1,600 of the iconic animals left in the wild, China is pinning its hopes on projects worth US$200 million to save them

AP , BEIJING

A child runs among panda dolls in Rome’s Piazza del Popolo square on Saturday. The Worldwide Fund for Nature placed 1,600 paper-pulp pandas, symbolizing the last pandas still present in nature, on the square.

PHOTO: AP

China will break ground on a new panda breeding center next month to replace a world-famous preserve badly damaged in last year’s massive earthquake in Sichuan Province, state media reported yesterday.

The new facility will host more than US$200 million in projects to preserve the endangered species, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

The world-famous Wolong Panda Breeding Center, near Sichuan’s capital of Chengdu, was nearly destroyed in the May 12 earthquake, which left 90,000 ­people dead or missing.

The quake killed at least one panda at Wolong and sent boulders the size of cars crashing onto it.

Most of the 63 pandas living there were relocated to zoos around the country.

The Wolong preserve had been at the heart of China’s gargantuan effort to use captive breeding and artificial insemination to save the endangered giant panda, which is revered as an unofficial national mascot.

Xinhua said the new center will be located in Huangcaoping, about 10km away from the former breeding base in the Wolong nature reserve.

Xinhua quoted an official with the nature reserve administration as saying that the new base was chosen for its environmental, weather and geological conditions.

“The pandas will be comfortable living here as it is not far from the former base,” Huang was quoted as saying. “Safety is the priority.”

It was not clear when the new center would open.

Calls to the forestry bureau in Sichuan and in Beijing, as well as to the Wolong reserve, rang ­unanswered yesterday.

The new base, to be called the China Giant Panda Protection and Research Center, will include 25 projects funded by the government of Hong Kong totaling 1.3 billion yuan (US$190 million), Xinhua said.

The state forestry administration will fund 19 projects at the new center amounting to 270 ­million yuan, the report said.

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.

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