Pandas are evacuated

Pandas living in earthquake-hit southwest China are facing a food shortage, and some have been evacuated to temporary shelters because of the threat of landslides and other hazards, an official said Tuesday.

Only seven pandas of the original 63 are left in the Wolong Nature Reserve deep in the mountains of Sichuan province, close to the epicenter of last month's temblor, said Zhang Hemin, director of the Wolong Panda Breeding Center.

Their usual diet of bamboo is being supplemented by milk and biscuits because so much of the local bamboo was either damaged or destroyed by the quake, Zhang said.

Most of the other pandas have been moved or are en route to other habitats “because of the threat of possible geological disasters, including landslides,” he said.

“We're trying to get them to safety,” Zhang said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

The Wolong preserve is at the heart of China's effort to use captive breeding and artificial insemination to save the giant panda.

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.

June marks the start of the annual rainy season, which routinely causes the region's fast flowing streams to flood their banks. Landslides are a particular concern because the quake caused hillsides to shear away and crash into river valleys below.

Many slopes remain unstable and are at high risk of being washed away by storms.

The pandas' new homes include the Bifengxia Giant Panda Base about 75 miles outside Sichuan's provincial capital of Chengdu, another breeding center in Chengdu itself, and facilities in the eastern province of Fujian and the southern province of Guangdong, Zhang said.

The transfer, which began last week, should be complete by early July, he said.