Video: Giant pandas leave earthquake zone

updated 5/24/2008 2:53:48 PM ET 2008-05-24T18:53:48

Eight pandas from a Chinese reserve severely shaken by a deadly earthquake are expected in the capital this week to go on display for the Olympics, a Beijing Zoo spokesman said Wednesday.

Some of the pandas are still acting nervous, eating and sleeping less since the quake, officials said, so their keepers will accompany them.

"I'm not sure about the mental state of the pandas right now," said Ye Mingxia of the Beijing Zoo. "We will have to carefully observe them after they arrive."

The pandas from the Wolong Giant Panda Reserve will arrive Saturday on a special plane and be on display until November, a visit planned long before the May 12 quake in central China. They are expected to draw more than 6 million tourists, the state-run Xinhua News Agency has reported.

"I want them to be more than just a tourist attraction, and for people to understand that they are endangered," said Suzanne Braden, director of U.S.-based Pandas International. She said she thought this display could help educate the public.

"Travel will stress the pandas out, but since the enclosures at Wolong are damaged, once they get to Beijing, I assume they'll be better off," Braden said. "I wish they had gotten moved before the earthquake."

Braden said the pandas being transferred for display in Beijing are all around a year old and will have their human caretakers at their side constantly, which will help them adapt.

"These caretakers truly view these pandas as their babies," she said.

Panda is a national symbol of China
The pandas call home a reserve some 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the epicenter of the deadly earthquake in Sichuan province. Five staff members died and the animals' homes were badly damaged, but all of the 60 or so pandas there survived the quake, although two are missing.

"Rescuing the missing pandas and taking care of the others in the center are our top priorities now," Xiong Beirong, head of the Sichuan Provincial Forestry Bureau's wildlife protection branch, told Xinhua.

An emergency shipment of about 5 tons of bamboo has been delivered to Wolong's hungry pandas, Xiong said.

Xiong said the bamboo was needed because residents were too busy coping with the earthquake to gather bamboo from the mountains. The emergency shipment also included apples, soybeans, eggs and milk powder.

The panda is a national symbol of China, with about 1,590 living in the wild, mostly in Sichuan and the western province of Shaanxi. An additional 180 have been bred in captivity.

More than 60 pandas were reported safe at another breeding center in Chengdu that reopened to tourists the day after the quake. Eight pandas at a preserve in Ya'an, about an hour's drive west of Chengdu, also survived.

The Wolong center is deep in the hills north of Chengdu along a winding, two-lane road that reports say was wiped out in places by the quake.

Both the Wolong and Chengdu centers are part of efforts to breed giant pandas in hopes of increasing the species' chances of survival.

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