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China builds center to encourage giant pandas to mate

MOSCOW, April 21 (RIA Novosti) - The Chinese government has launched the construction of the world's largest breeding center for giant pandas in the southwest Sichuan province, the Xinhua news agency said on Monday.

The giant panda, which is one of Beijing's Olympic mascots for the 2008 games, is classified as an endangered species partially due to its very low birthrate and unwillingness to mate both in captivity and in the wild.

The breeding complex of around one square km (0.4 square miles), located in the Wolong Nature Reserve, will be able to house nearly 200 animals and is designed to encourage breeding. The complex will include private and outdoor enclosures, as well as areas for feeding and breeding.

The number of pandas housed in the reserve has increased from 10 to 130 in recent years, spurred by advanced breeding techniques, and the current facilities do not provide the pandas with adequate living conditions.

"Pandas are solitary animals, but many have to share enclosures, causing infections and fights," said Wang Pengyan, deputy chief of the reserve.

Pandas have a reputation as being reluctant to mate, particularly in captivity, which is believed to be due to a lack of experience. Several centers in China and Thailand have shown the animals footage of mating pandas in an attempt to overcome their sexual inhibition.

The research center in Chengdu has introduced a dance-like "sexercise" program, encouraging male pandas to walk on their two back legs in an attempt to strengthen their hip muscles and boost the animal's sexual stamina.

China now has 239 giant pandas in captivity and around 1,590 in the wild. Under Chinese law, killing a giant panda is punishable by the death penalty without the right to appeal.

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