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Pandas face tough time this winter
By Huang Zhiling and Wang Wei (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-12-12 07:35

CHENGDU -- Giant pandas living in the wild in Sichuan will face a struggle to survive this winter because of the damage caused to their environment by the May 12 earthquake, an expert said Thursday.

Zhang Hemin, head of the Wolong Nature Reserve Administrative Bureau, said the massive quake wreaked havoc in the bears' habitat, destroying huge areas of bamboo, their primary food.

Staff from the China Conservation and Research Center in Wolong recently rescued a giant panda from the wild that was in a very poor condition, Zhang said.

Despite their best efforts, however, the bear died, and it is unlikely to be the last casualty, he said.

Wolong is home to about 150 wild pandas, and 140 living in captivity.

One of the captive bears was killed in the earthquake and another went missing, Zhang said.

Although none of the wild Wolong bears have died, several sick pandas have been found in other reserves across Sichuan, he said.

The earthquake not only damaged the bears' habitat, but also affected them psychologically, he said.

"They were as nervous as people. All the cubs huddled together and were panicky," he said.

"Even today, some of them walk very slowly, as if they fear an aftershock."

Being just 10 km from the quake's epicenter, the Wolong reserve suffered a heavy blow on May 12, Zhang said.

"Fourteen of the 32 panda enclosures at the center were completely destroyed and the rest were severely damaged," he said.

"Sixty-one bears were left homeless," he said.

After the quake, most of the Wolong bears were transferred to the Bifengxia panda base in Ya'an, Sichuan, while others were sent to Chengdu, Beijing and Fuzhou.

While the Bifengxia center, which is now home to 60 giant pandas, and other places have provided good temporary homes for the bears, restoring Wolong to its former glory is essential for their long-term protection and care, Zhang said.

In July, the Sichuan government unveiled a 2 billion yuan ($290 million) plan, drawn up by experts from Wolong, Peking University, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Beijing-based firm Turenscape, to redevelop the reserve.

Under the plan, the conservation and research center will be relocated from its original home in Hetaoping to Gengda.

As well as 1,500 sq m of enclosures, the new site will include a hospital, a laboratory, a training ground for preparing pandas bred in captivity to live in the wild, an environmental education center, and a bamboo forest, Li Desheng, deputy chief of the center, said.