China's giant pandas may be running out of food

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BEIJING, Nov 13 (Reuters) Giant pandas living in the wild in the misty mountains of southwest China are facing a possible food shortage as bamboo plants, their staple diet, near the end of their lifespan, state media said.

Yang Xuyu, deputy head of the Wild Animal Preservation Station of the provincial forestry bureau, responsible for monitoring 24,000 hectares of bamboo, issued the warning at a panda breeding conference on Sunday.

''Nine varieties of bamboo have been observed flowering in 14 counties in Sichuan since 2005, which account for 30 percent of bamboo eaten by the pandas,'' Yang was quoted as saying yesterday.

''No wild panda has been found dead of starvation. But as the area of bamboo flowering spreads, we should keep close watch on the severity of the pandas' food shortages.'' The mountainous region witnessed extensive blossoming of the arrow bamboo, the pandas' favorite, in 1984 and 1987, when the plants flowered, seeded and died. Hundreds of the endangered animals died of starvation.

Pandas eat 20 or so bamboo species. A research centre for endangered animals in the western province of Shaanxi has carried out tests aimed at helping pandas to broaden their eating habits.

The giant panda is one of the world's most endangered species and is found only in China. An estimated 1,600 wild pandas live in nature reserves in Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi provinces.

REUTERS SBA RAI0723

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