A Rare Glimpse of Quake-Hit Pandas

Shaken by the quake, Wolong's pandas are now on the road to recovery.

ByABC News
August 15, 2008, 7:14 AM

WOLONG and BEIJING, China, Aug 15, 2008 — -- When the ground shook and the mountainside gave way last May in China's southwestern Sichuan Province, China's national treasure and Olympic mascot -- the giant panda -- was put in grave danger.

Dozens of pandas at the Wolong Panda Reserve in Wenchuan County, the epicenter of the May 12 earthquake that killed nearly 70,000 people and left 18,000 missing, clutched each other during the quake while others grasped for trees in their immediate vicinity.

When the earth stabilized, government officials were unable to reach the reserve staff.

"The small pandas, those less than 1 year old, huddled together at the top of the trees," said Professor Huang Yan, Deputy Chief Engineer of Wolong Panda Reserve and earthquake eye-witness.

"After the earthquake, six pandas ran away. Their [habitat] walls had collapsed and some of them did not return."

Today, the pandas at Wolong Panda Reserve are attempting to recover, and they seem to be thriving. There are approximately 1,600 pandas left in the world and they are found only in China's Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi Provinces. About 1,400 live in the area affected by the Sichuan earthquake.

Three months after the quake, in a "Good Morning America" exclusive, ABC News gained very rare access to these pandas. We traveled to the panda reserve center in Ya'an, outside of Chengdu, to check on their recovery.

Pandas Spooked, Shaken by Quake

When the earthquake struck on May 12, the pandas at the Wolong Panda Reserve were immediately spooked. The quake, which registered a magnitude of 7.9 and killed five security guards at the reserve, rocked the walls of the pandas' quarters, leaving the surviving pandas visibly shaken.

"Many of cubs clutched onto one another instead of answering their caretakers' calls, which is very unlike them," Huang explained to ABC News. "The caretakers actually had to go up to them and coax them out of the trees."