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 user 2005-04-02 at 9:33:00 am Views: 49
  • #29616

    Bamboo shortage threatens pandas
    Chinese officials scramble to get food to hungry

    SHANGHAI, China –
    Giant pandas in western China could be at risk of starvation because the bamboo
    plants that they eat are beginning to die off in a cycle that happens about
    every 60 years, the official Xinhua News Agency reported Sunday.

    Workers at the
    Baishuijiang State Nature Preserve in the northwestern province of Gansu plan to
    monitor the 102 pandas in the preserve for signs of hunger, according to

    Threatened pandas
    will be moved to areas that still have bamboo, with special attention given to
    older, feeble animals, it said, citing Zhang Kerong, the preserve’s

    Pandas derive most
    of their nutrition from arrow bamboo and can starve once the plant enters its
    dying-off stage. The stage begins when the bamboo forms flowers, after which the
    pandas refuse to eat it. The bamboo then starts to produce seeds before

    Blooming happens
    about once every 60 years, with a new crop taking 10 years to mature. However,
    the cycle seems to run along different schedules in different places and an
    earlier mass die-off of bamboo in the 1980s caused the deaths of about 250
    pandas, Xinhua said.

    Xinhua said some
    bamboo also has started blooming in Sichuan and Shaanxi provinces, home to the
    rest of China’s estimated 1,590 wild pandas.

    Flowering bamboo
    now covers more than 17,300 acres of the 544,000-acre preserve, Xinhua said. It
    said 22 pandas living in the preserve’s Bikou and Rangshuihe areas were directly
    threatened with starvation.

    Zhang said rangers
    would patrol for ailing animals and rescue those in need. Local villagers also
    have been told not to drive away or harm pandas if they enter inhabited areas
    looking for food.

    China regards the
    panda as an unofficial national mascot, but the animal’s limited diet is just
    one factor threatening its survival. Panda numbers have declined as its habitat
    has fallen to farming and development, and the animal’s low fertility rate
    causes it to reproduce at an agonizingly slow rate.

    Chinese zoologists
    have improved the birth rate of giant pandas in captivity through artificial
    insemination. The country also has launched a project to clone the animal as a
    way of boosting its numbers.