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Earthquake may force new census of panda population

By Yang Yao | China Daily | Updated: 2013-05-22 03:30

China may launch a fourth major census of wild giant pandas in 2014 because of the effects of the magnitude-7 earthquake that jolted Sichuan province in April.

Yan Xun, the State Forestry Administration's chief engineer for wildlife conservation, said at a news conference on Tuesday that no pandas were killed or injured in the Ya'an earthquake.

Sichuan, home to the giant panda, has been hit by two major earthquakes in five years, as well as secondary disasters.

In 2008, a magnitude-8 Wenchuan earthquake destroyed the Wolong National Natural Reserve and Breeding Base, home to more than 100 pandas. Later the animals were moved to the Ya'an Bifengxia base, where more bamboo was available to them.

But the base was hit again by the Ya'an magnitude-7 earthquake, the epicenter of which was only 20 to 30 km from the base.

"The good thing is that though their habitat was destroyed, the pandas are safe," Yan said.

Yan said through captive breeding, pandas are sensitive to earthquakes and have acquired tree-climbing skills, which they use when disaster strikes, as has been monitored in videos.

"Both earthquakes happened in springtime, when the main activity of pandas was concentrated in high-altitude localities where pandas were safe," he said.

The nationwide census has shown the number of pandas is increasing, Yan said.

The first survey, which ended in 1976, showed 2,000 giant pandas living in the wild. However, the number dropped to about 1,000 in the 1980s.

A third survey, which ended in 2006, showed the number had risen to 1,596.

Pandas, which are listed as the most endangered animals in China by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, are experiencing a decrease in number due to increased human activities in the bears' habitat.

The World Wild Fund for Nature, which has used a giant panda as a logo since its founding in 1961, said the greatest threat to the panda population has been caused by humans because of habitat loss caused by mass clearing of bamboo forests for agriculture.

This major wildlife campaigner spends more than $2 million annually on panda conservation.

Yan said the rehabilitation of the panda's habitat will be carried out.

"Green NGOs are also encouraged to take part in wildlife conservation," said Yan, adding that professional training will also be provided to the process.

A red-crowned crane plays with a soldier before it is returned to the wild on Jan 31 in Yancheng, Jiangsu province. The crane had been injured during the winter and was nursed back to health by local police officers and bird sanctuary staff members. Zhang Shanyu / For China Daily

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