Late Tuesday, officials at Wolong used a satellite phone to contact the State Forestry Administration and report that the pandas were safe, the official Xinhua News Agency said. It said all panda cubs had been taken to safety.
Pandas are a national symbol for China. They are loaned to other countries as friendship offerings in what has become known as “panda politics.” They are so rare and so slow to breed that any large-scale loss could have been critical to the population. More than 60 pandas at another breeding center in Chengdu are safe, and the center reopened to tourists Tuesday morning, Xinhua said. Another eight pandas at a preserve in Ya’an, about an hour’s drive west of Chengdu, were reported safe as well. But the Wolong center is deep in the hills north of Chengdu along a winding, two-lane road that reports say has been wiped out in places by the quake. Earlier phone and e-mail contact had failed.
Rarest of Animals
The Wolong center offers visitors the rare chance to play with young pandas, while wearing sterile gloves, booties and gowns for the pandas’ safety.
“It’s magical. It’s a beautiful place,” said Suzanne Braden, director of U.S.-based Pandas International, which gives medical equipment and supplies to Wolong. “It’s high, clean, pure, where you’d like to think that wild pandas would be.”
It is also difficult to reach, even in the best of times. Rescue workers only reached nearby areas by foot Tuesday, a day after the quake struck.