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Take trip to save pandas

Planning the school trip for next year? How about spending a week with one of the world's most endangered and iconic species?

A newly-created link between Wales and the research base for giant panda breeding at Chengdu, in south-western China, involves working with the cuddly creatures and mucking out their living accommodation, with the chance of glimpsing one of their elusive cousins in the wild.

However, parents will need to dig deep to find pound;1,700 for this ultimate eco-trip. Chengdu is in Sichaun province, and a visit to the world's oldest irrigation scheme is thrown in too.

The phones are already ringing at the offices of school tour operator Key Stage Travel in Llangollen, which is running the exotic trip.

"We've just sent fliers to every head of science in England and Wales and have had interest already," said director and former secondary school teacher Hugh Jordan. "At the moment we have two visits next year with just 20 places on each. I'll be delighted if we do half-a-dozen of the trips a year after that."

The company's usual educational outings range from a pound;40 one-day battlefield tour, to Russia for pound;1,000. The Giant Panda tour is aimed at a niche market of 16 to 18-year-old pupils, probably with an interest in ecology, the environment or zoology.

The panda connection between Wales and China has been forged by Shanghai-born Shelley Zhu who lives in Newport and promotes business links with China.

"I've been working with Chester Zoo, Liverpool Veterinary School and Chengdu for a few years," she says. "Chengdu already collaborates with Japan and the USA, but this is the first British link."

Chengdu was founded in 1987 with just six wild giant pandas. There are now 48, thanks to the breeding programme.

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