National Geographic News
A captive adult giant panda that had disappeared during the May 12 earthquake has returned home, but two of the rare animals are still unaccounted for, China's state media agency reported today.
Officials are optimistic about the survival of the two missing pandas, which live at the Wolong National Nature Reserve in central China.
The reserve is located 18 miles (29 kilometers) from the epicenter of the massive temblor that ripped through mountainous Sichuan Province. (See photos of the quake's devastation.)
The panda's homing instinct is not unusual, Marc Brody, president of the U.S.-China Environmental Fund (USCEF), told National Geographic News.
"There's a history of captive pandas returning to the breeding center after escaping for one reason or another," he said.
Brody has received funding from the National Geographic Society for panda conservation research. (The National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News.)
"One can hope that the other two pandas will return in the near future, or perhaps better yet, find their way in the wild," Brody said.
Chinese forestry official Xiong Beirong also told China's Xinhua news agency that the animals "were likely to be alive" because they were adults.
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.
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