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Zoos work to aid staff at Chinese panda base

May 31, 2008|From the Washington Post

WASHINGTON — The National Zoo, San Diego Zoo and two other U.S. zoos with giant pandas are launching an effort to raise money for colleagues in an earthquake-ravaged section of China that is home to a renowned panda facility.

The Wolong National Nature Reserve, in Sichuan province, was a short distance from the epicenter of the earthquake that struck May 12. National Zoo officials said five workers at the reserve are believed to have died in the disaster.

Two of the approximately 50 pandas at the reserve's breeding center escaped, though one was found, a zoo official said. There was extensive damage in the region, and staff members are living in tents, the zoo's website says. An appeal for donations has been posted at nationalzoo.si.edu/Animals/ GiantPandas.

The Wolong reserve is the birthplace of National Zoo pandas Mei Xiang, a female, and Tian Tian, a male. They are the parents of Tai Shan, who was born at the zoo in 2005. San Diego panda Bai Yun, the mother of 2007 arrival Zhen Zhen, was also born at Wolong.

There are strong professional ties among panda experts in both countries, National Zoo spokeswoman Pamela Baker-Masson said.

"We can wire them money, and it can be immediate, and it can go right to the staff at Wolong," she said. "Because of our established partnership, we have a mechanism to deliver the funds quickly, expeditiously, to the people who need them now."

David Wildt, head of the National Zoo's Center for Species Survival, said that of the 35 enclosures at the breeding center, 14 were destroyed and 18 were severely damaged.

He said that about five days after the earthquake, the zoo got an e-mail from the facility's director, Zhang Hemin, saying, "We need your help."

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