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UPDATED: June 6, 2008 NO. 23 JUN. 5, 2008
Pandas on The Move
After surviving the earthquake, China's panda population face the search for a new home

PLACE IN THE CITY: Eight pandas from Sichuan Province settle into their new home in Beijing Zoo

On the afternoon of May 24, with the landing of a China Southern Airlines Boeing 747 at Beijing Capital International Airport, eight pandas from Sichuan Province finally arrived in China's capital safe from the aftershocks of the May 12 earthquake.

The pandas all came from Wolong, which is just 30 km away from the epicenter of the catastrophic earthquake. Fourteen panda houses among a total of 32 there were destroyed and the rest were severely damaged. Two pandas were hurt by the quake, one went missing, and the rest are all safe.

The pandas were moved to a relatively safe place, living in a simple and small temporary house, but the road from the panda houses to the outside was blocked by stones, and the threat of landslides began to pose a danger to them.

"The panda base was damaged by the catastrophic May 12 earthquake," said Wang Pengyan, Deputy Director of the Wolong-based China Giant Panda Protection and Research Center.

"The pandas were severely frightened by the earthquake and couldn't even eat in the beginning. The panda keepers adopted the methods of soft touching and chatting to comfort the pandas. Before the earthquake, the pandas could eat eight times a day, but now they eat only four times, and the amount they consume has dropped from 2 kg per day to 1.5 kg," said Xu Yaling, a keeper in the panda base.

The pandas also suffered from food shortages in the aftermath of the quake. Due to damage to the road, aftershocks and subsequent landslides, vehicles delivering supplies were forced to make a 700-km detour to reach the base.

The panda keepers were forced to climb nearby mountains in search of bamboo, a dangerous pursuit, especially given the risk of aftershocks.

On May 23, six adult pandas were sent to Ya'an Panda Base, which suffered less damage in the earthquake, in order to relieve pressure on the Wolong base. One day later, the eight Olympic pandas were airlifted to Beijing.

"I am very happy to see the pandas here. I thought due to the earthquake in their hometown, the schedule would be delayed, but to my surprise, they arrived in Beijing even ahead of schedule," said a mother, who was at Beijing Zoo with her daughter to see the new pandas.

Deputy Director of Beijing Zoo, Zhang Jinguo, who brought the pandas from Wolong, said that the zoo had made every effort to make the pandas comfortable in Beijing. Every house is equipped with air conditioning and video monitoring equipment to ensure the comfort and safety of the pandas. The zoo also purchases fresh bamboo every week from Henan Province to ensure the food supply of the pandas.

"Now, Beijing Zoo can hold more than 20 pandas. We had seven pandas before, plus the new eight, so now we have altogether 15 pandas. It is the first time in the history of Beijing that we have had so many pandas," said Zhang. "The eight pandas have recovered from the nervousness of the quake and are all in good condition."

Meanwhile, where to relocate the pandas in Sichuan is a hot issue. Rebuilding the houses at the present base is one option, but opposition voices say the pandas would be at risk from landslides. Ge Yunfa, Zhejiang Area Director of the State Conservation Center for Gene Resources of Endangered Wildlife, said the government intends to select another place as the second hometown of the pandas.

There are several areas competing for the privilege, including Jiangxi, Hubei and Zhejiang provinces. According to some experts, Zhejiang is the favorite due to its geographic location, pleasant climate and economic conditions.

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