BEIJING – Eight pandas arrived safely in Beijing on Saturday after a long journey from their damaged reserve near the epicenter of last week's China earthquake.
The pandas will spend the next six months at the Beijing Zoo on a special Olympics visit that was planned long before the quake.
The pandas have been closely watched because they seemed nervous after the earthquake, sometimes eating and sleeping less. But they appeared lively after they were moved into their exhibit space at the Beijing Zoo on Saturday evening, even putting their paws on the glass separating them from the media and the public.
"I'm not sure about the mental state of the pandas right now," Ye Mingxia of the Beijing Zoo told The Associated Press earlier this week. "We will have to carefully observe them after they arrive."
But Wang Pengyan, deputy head of the Wolong Giant Panda Reserve, assured the state-run Xinhua News Agency that the pandas were fine. "The pandas have recovered from any nervousness about the quake and are all in good condition," he said Saturday.
The eight 2-year-old pandas were flown Saturday afternoon by special plane to Beijing from Chengdu, the capital of hard-hit central Sichuan province.
Their home at the world-famous Wolong reserve was badly damaged in the May 12 quake, which was centered just 20 miles away in a damp region of narrow, winding mountain roads.
By Saturday, the quake had killed more than 60,000 people — including five staff members of the panda reserve.
Conditions remained so bad at the reserve this week that the Chinese government arranged an emergency shipment of about 5 tons of bamboo for the hungry pandas, almost 60 of them, at Wolong. Two pandas have been missing since the quake.
The panda is a powerful symbol of China, and the country engages in what's called "panda politics" by lending out the rare animal as a gesture of goodwill. Among the pandas found safe at Wolong after the quake were Tuantuan and Yuanyuan, two pandas that have been offered to Taiwan.
About 1,590 pandas are living in the wild, mostly in Sichuan and the western province of Shaanxi. An additional 180 have been bred in captivity.
The Wolong reserve is part of efforts to breed giant pandas in hopes of increasing the species' chances of survival.