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Staffers killed, pandas missing at China panda reserve

May 19, 2008 |  7:33 pm

The latest word from China is that the Woolong Giant Panda Breeding Center was damaged by last week's 7.9-magnitude earthquake and that as many five pandas had escaped, officials of the San Diego Zoo said Monday. The Associated Press reported that five staffers at the center were killed.

All but two of the pandas have been recaptured but the enclosures were severely damaged in the May 12 temblor, officials said.

"Hillside rocks the size of Volkswagens came down and pummeled the sides of the enclosures," said Ron Swaisgood, panda team co-leader at the San Diego Zoo, who has been in contact with Chinese officials. The main road from the breeding center to the Woolong Nature Reserve was destroyed, Swaisgood said.

The San Diego Zoo, which has four pandas, and other U.S. zoos with pandas are organizing a fund to help repair the Woolong facility. Some Woolong employees are living in tents and cars while they tend the pandas, Swaisgood said.

The Associated Press reported that the reserve’s other 60 giant pandas are safe. The reserve is about 18 miles from the epicenter of the earthquake that has killed more than 32,000 people.

Panda International, which works to preserve the species, is also monitoring post-quake developments in China.

-- Tony Perry

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