ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Now we revisit a place we featured two months ago during our coverage of the massive earthquake in southwestern China. The quake killed tens of thousands of people, and it caused a scare for the panda base in Chengdu. Today, NPR's Louisa Lim returned there on a special day for the center.
Unidentified Children: (Speaking foreign language)
LOUISA LIM: A gaggle of nine-year-olds has been practicing for this moment. It's the Chinese launch of a book called "Watch Me Grow." This tells the story so far of probably the world's most-watched two-year-old, panda Jingjing, who's also an Olympic mascot.
Her home is here at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where the buzz of cicadas vibrates through the bamboo.
Jo Lusby, general manager of the publisher, Penguin China, says it's donating the book's profits - so far $30,000 from U.S. sales - to the center.
Ms. JO LUSBY (Penguin China): We really decided to launch it here now to partly highlight the problems the center here are having in terms of lost revenue from tourism.
LIM: The base hasn't suffered any physical damage, but visitor numbers plummeted, with many tourists canceling trips to the region after the earthquake. Now just 300 people visit every day, about a tenth of the normal number. The center predicts it will lose more than $1 million in revenue this year.
Mr. ZHANG ZHIHE (Director, Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding): Economically, it is a disaster.
LIM: Zhang Zhihe, the center's director, says it's cost-cutting wherever it can.
Mr. ZHIHE: Before we can provide our pandas five kinds of bamboo in a day. Right now we can just only provide two. Before, you know, we can give the pandas 80 to 100 kilos bamboo; right now we can only give them 50.
(Soundbite of panda bear eating)
LIM: As pandas munch their bamboo, he stresses the animals are not going hungry. This center has been much luckier than the other main panda base, up the mountains in Wolong. It was destroyed. Five staffers were killed, one panda died, and another is still missing. The government's just announced a $290 million plan to rebuild that center.
And two months on much is still unknown about how the earthquake affected the 1,600 wild pandas, according to Sarah Bexell, director of conservation education.
Ms. SARAH BEXELL (Director of Conservation Education): We do have a lot of worries about the wild population and of course all the other plants and animals in the region because as people saw, you know, on the television, you know, entire sides of mountains collapsed, and so - and this is prime habitat for giant pandas, and their habitat's already so extremely limited.
LIM: Inside her grassy enclosure, Jingjing the Olympic panda lumbers around, blithely ignoring her adoring public. The center's habitat conservation programs have all been halted. Like many others, the staffers are taking recovery one day at a time and still figuring out how to get by in this new post-quake world. Louisa Lim, NPR News, Chengdu, China.
SIEGEL: And you can see videos of the pandas at the Chengdu Research Base at our Web site, NPR.org.
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