China Giant Panda Sanctuary Put on UN Heritage List
VILNIUS A bamboo-covered mountainous sanctuary in China which houses nearly a third of the world's last remaining giant pandas was on Wednesday added to the U.N. World Heritage List.
The United Nations Environmental, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) World Heritage committee, meeting in Lithuania's capital Vilnius, said the rare bears must be protected.
"The Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuary in China, home to over 30 percent of the world's endangered giant pandas, was inscribed on the World Heritage List on Wednesday," a UNESCO official said.
"It is the largest remaining contiguous habitat of the giant panda and the most important captive breeding ground for the animal," added the official, who did not want to be named.
The prestigious listing obliges authorities to protect the natural habitat. Chinese conservationists praised the decision as a step towards protecting the shy symbols of China's disappearing wilderness.
"To protect an animal is not just putting it living in the zoo, but keeping it alive in its home," Lu Zhi, a professor at Peking University who specializes in pandas, told China's official Xinhua news agency.
A statement from UNESCO is expected later on Wednesday.
The animal is on the red list of threatened animals of the World Conservation Union.
The Chinese sanctuary across mountainous western Sichuan province covers more than 2 million acres.
It is also home to other endangered species such as the red panda, snow leopard and clouded leopard, and botanically is one of the richest areas in the world, the UNESCO official said.
Recently, Chinese and British scientists announced that giant pandas may not be as close to extinction as feared after finding there could be almost twice as many living in the wild as thought.
Scientists had previously estimated there were about 1,590 giant pandas living in reserves in China. But the researchers estimated there could be as many as 3,000 there after a survey using a new method to profile DNA from panda dung.
UNESCO's World Heritage list of cultural and natural heritage features more than 800 sites around the planet.
The UNESCO committee will meet until Sunday and is expected to consider adding several new cultural sites to the list, as well as steps to encourage conservation of endangered sites.