China will begin building a new panda breeding center next month to replace a world-famous preserve badly damaged in last year's devastating earthquake in southwestern Sichuan province, state media reported Sunday.
The new facility will be used for more than $200 million in projects to preserve the endangered species, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
The world-famous Wolong Panda Breeding Center, near Sichuan's capital of Chengdu, was nearly destroyed in the May 12 earthquake, which left 90,000 people dead or missing.
The quake killed at least one panda at Wolong and sent boulders the size of cars crashing onto it.
Most of the 63 pandas living there were relocated to zoos around the country. The Wolong preserve had been the heart of China's gargantuan effort to use captive breeding and artificial insemination to save giant pandas, which are revered as an unofficial national mascot.
Xinhua said the new center will be in Huangcaoping, about six miles (10 kilometers) from the former breeding base in the Wolong nature reserve.
It quoted Huang Jianhua, an official with the nature reserve administration, as saying the location was chosen for its environmental, weather and geological conditions.
"The pandas will be comfortable living here as it is not far from the former base," Huang was quoted as saying. "Safety is the priority."
It was not clear when the new center would open. Calls to the forestry bureau in Sichuan and in Beijing, as well as to the Wolong reserve, rang unanswered Sunday.
The new facility, to be called the China Giant Panda Protection and Research Center, will house 25 projects funded by the government of Hong Kong costing 1.3 billion yuan ($190 million), Xinhua said. The state forestry administration will also fund 19 projects totaling 270 million yuan ($40 million), it said.
Only about 1,600 pandas live in the wild, mostly in Sichuan. An additional 180 have been bred in captivity, many of them at Wolong, and scores have been loaned or given to zoos abroad, with the revenues helping fund conservation programs.