MOSCOW, September 23 (RIA Novosti) - Sixty giant pandas relocated from China's southwestern Sichuan province after a devastating earthquake in May 2008 are to return to their home in 2012, Xinhua reported on Wednesday.
The 8.0-magnitude earthquake on May 12, 2008, caused serious damage in Sichuan province and became a tragedy for giant pandas in the Wolong nature reserve, which houses a national panda breeding and research center. One of the center's 63 pandas died in the quake, one went missing and another one died of its injuries on the way to hospital, the news agency said.
Luo Zengbin, deputy head of Sichuan Provincial Forestry Department, told Xinhua the earthquake also killed 12 panda protection workers, severely injured another 57, and damaged 57,391 hectares of the pandas' habitat.
A 379 million-yuan ($55.5 million) reconstruction program, which is underway in the Wolong nature reserve, is expected to be completed by 2011, Xinhua said.
The giant panda, native to central-western and southwestern China, is becoming extinct because its habitat is being destroyed by farming, forest clearing and other development.
China started panda conservation in the 1950s. Through the combined efforts of locals, the WWF and the government, the number of giant pandas in China has increased by 1,000 since the 1970s. According to WWF research, there are about 1.600 pandas living in forests in China's Gansu, Sichuan and Shanxi provinces, and more than 200 living in captivity.