National Geographic News
Three captive giant pandas have disappeared from a famous reserve in quake-devastated central China, official media and the other sources reported Monday.
The Wolong National Nature Reserve is located 18 miles (29 kilometers) from the epicenter of the massive temblor that ripped through mountainous Sichuan Province on May 12. (See photos of the quake's devastation.)
Initial reports last week indicated that the 86 captive adult pandas at the reserve were unharmed. The reserve's breeding center is considered crucial to the endangered animals' survival as a species.
But closer examination of the facility revealed that three pandas were unaccounted for, Marc Brody, president of the U.S.-China Environmental Fund (USCEF), told National Geographic News.
Brody has received funding from the National Geographic Society for panda conservation research. (The National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News.)
Brody received information from USCEF's Wolong staff, who were recently evacuated to the provincial capital of Chengdu.
Power and phones lines are still out in the remote reserve, and landslides have wiped out the area's only highway.
The 7.9-magnitude quake has so far killed 32,000 people, and the government expects the final death toll to surpass 50,000.
(Read: "Study Warned of China Quake Risk Nearly a Year Ago" [May 16, 2008].)
WWF China has also received confirmation that three pandas are missing from the Wolong reserve, according to a statement provided by the conservation group's spokesperson Kerry Zobor.
"WWF is concerned about the conditions and whereabouts of the three missing pandas," the statement said.
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES