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China pandas procreating, but not out of the woods
Updated: 2004-06-15 10:47

China's giant pandas are rebounding from the brink of extinction, thanks to an improved and expanded habitat, but they are not out of the woods yet, forestry officials said on Thursday.

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The first comprehensive Chinese study of the mammal since 1988 showed that more than 1,590 giant pandas now roam China's forests, and another 161 have been raised in captivity.

The State Forestry Administration said a 1985-88 study identified about 1,110 pandas in the wild in China.

"We can say with complete confidence that our panda protection has achieved important results," Zhuo Rongsheng, director of the Department of Wildlife Conservation under the State Forestry Administration, told a news conference.

But pandas, known for their distinctive black and white markings, tree-climbing ability and for being finicky eaters, still face the danger of extinction.

"With this kind of species we cannot lower our guard and think that we have solved a critical problem," said Zhuo.

Pandas had a very specific diet, preferring the arrow bamboo, were prone to disease and had particular habitats, he said.

Pandas are also notoriously difficult breeders and Chinese scientists have tried nearly everything to increase the population in captivity, including showing films of other pandas mating.

The conservation group WWF, which gave financial and technical assistance to the forestry administration, said the panda study was more accurate than previous ones because it employed better counting methods.

It discovered pandas in areas not thought to have the species, WWF said in a statement.

"The release of this survey is important not only for pandas, or WWF, but also for the more than 1.3 billion people of China," Susan Lieberman, director of the WWF's global species program, said in a statement.

"The giant panda is a powerful symbol of the very future of China -- the need to balance human needs and nature conservation."

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