China has several hundred more giant pandas than it thought it did, a recent survey has found, an indication that the imminent threat of extinction the species faced in the 1980s may have eased, RFA�s Mandarin service reports.

According to the survey carried out jointly by the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and China�s State Forestry Administration, China now has more than 1,750 giant pandas, including more than 1,590 living in the wild, and 161 raised in artificial environments.

�The rising number of giant pandas means that they are eased from the danger of extinction in the 1980s,� Zhao Xuemin, deputy director of the State Forestry Administration, told a news conference Thursday.

There was a wider distribution of giant pandas in China than previously, and their habitats had also improved, he said. The four-year study attempted to count every panda, as opposed to previous studies that extrapolated numbers of pandas from selected parts of panda habitats.

Pandas prefer living alone in high mountains and deep valleys, and the survey, using satellite-monitoring technologies, found them in regions not thought to be their habitat.

While giant pandas were once widespread in southern and eastern China and in neighboring Burma and Vietnam, they are now only found in temperate forest scattered across six mountain ranges in southwest China.

�Because of improved census methods, we have a more accurate count of how many there are in the wild, where they are, and the state of the habitat on which they depend,� said James Harkness, country representative of WWF China.

However, major difficulties remain for the creatures, which have been designated a �national treasure� by the Chinese government since the 1960s.

�In some areas, giant pandas are under the threat of human disturbance and fracturing of habitat,� said Zhuo Rongsheng, director of the wildlife protection department under the State Forestry Administration. �The key of giant panda protection is, in fact, to protect their natural habitats.�

By the end of 2003, China had built 40 giant panda protection areas, covering 45 percent of their habitat. Around 90 percent of giant pandas now in the wild are thought to live in protected areas. #####


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