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Zoos aid China's panda refuge

WASHINGTON – The National Zoo and three 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 only a short distance from the epicenter of the earthquake that struck May 12. National Zoo officials said they think five workers at the reserve died.

Two of the roughly 50 pandas at the reserve’s breeding center escaped, although one was found, a zoo official said. There was extensive damage in the region, and staff members are living in tents, the zoo’s Web site said. An appeal for donations is posted on the Web site at http://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/giantpandas.

There are strong professional ties among panda experts in both countries, zoo spokeswoman Pamela Baker-Masson said, and a representative of the National Zoo had been scheduled to visit the reserve this month.

“Everyone who knows about giant pandas in the field knows about the Wolong National Nature Reserve,” said David Wildt, head of the zoo’s Center for Species Survival, who was to have made the trip.

The National Zoo is joining zoos in Atlanta, Memphis and San Diego to raise money to assist Chinese colleagues, 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.”

Wildt said that of the 35 enclosures at the reserve’s 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 Wolong facility’s director, Zhang Hemin, saying, “We need your help.”

“Our first concern was, of course, for our friends and colleagues,” Wildt said.

“My thought was, if our colleagues are okay, the giant pandas will be okay. We’ve worked with these people very, very closely.

“We really think that probably one of the greatest needs up there is going to be for temporary shelters,” he said.

“And we’re talking more than tents. This is going to be a long-term process. It’s beautiful country, but it gets wet and cold.”

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