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Giant pandas move home in Sichuan
( 2003-09-22 10:16) (China Daily)

The world's biggest "migration" of captive-bred giant pandas took place yesterday in Southwest China's Sichuan Province.

A giant panda, one of the eight relocated to Ya'an in Southwest China's Sichuan Province, meets and greets visitors.[newsphoto.com.cn]

Eight giant pandas from a breeding centre at Wolong in Sichuan were moved to a new home at a recently opened breeding centre in Ya'an in the province's southwest.

The eight pandas consist of seven males and one female, all aged between two and five years. They arrived at Ya'an Bifengxia Giant Panda World at 2 pm yesterday after a six-hour journey by station waggon. A special road has been built to transport the pandas.

Bifengxia Giant Panda World is a branch of the China Research Centre for Protection of Giant Pandas based in Wolong. It is about 200 kilometres from the Wolong headquarters. The new centre has been set up within a famous scenic area, where the elevation ranges from 1,100 to 1,800 metres.

The first phase of construction at Bifengxia Giant Panda World in Ya'an has been completed. The centre will be open to visitors by October 1, the start of China's National Day holiday week.

Giant panda experts will closely monitor the giant pandas and will move another eight to the Bifengxia base after they are sure the first group has adapted to the new environment, said He Guang-xin, deputy director of the China Giant Panda Propagation Technologies Committee.

Thanks to advanced artificial breeding technology, the Wolong centre has become home to 70 giant pandas. However, limited space in the centre will increase the incidence of disease among the pandas as the group enlarges, He said.

Different groups of giant pandas will be raised separately at the spacious new home to limit the potential for disease spread among the endangered animals, said He.

The deputy director said the first eight giant pandas would also be taught how to fend for themselves in preparation for their return to nature.

"They will be released into the wild when the conditions are ripe," said He.

The Bifengxia centre is the largest of its kind, with a planned area of 400 hectares. It has 16 panda enclosures, all equipped with air conditioning and running water. It is financed by the State Forestry Administration at a cost of 240 million yuan (US$28.92 million).

The centre will be built in three phases. The first phase covered 66.7 hectares and cost 120 million yuan (US$14.46 million). The entire complex will be fully completed in 2005, at which time some 40 giant pandas will live there.

Ya'an, on the transitional zone of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and the edge of Sichuan Basin, has ideal natural conditions for giant pandas and is where the world's first giant panda was discovered. Some 300 giant pandas still live in the wild in the region.

There are about 1,000 pandas left in the wild, mainly in the mountains surrounding the Sichuan Basin in southwest China. The number of pandas in captivity worldwide stands at around 100.

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