Conditions covering the leasing of giant pandas to zoos by research centres are to be tightened after a number of the animals died because they were not looked after properly.
The State Forestry Administration, the country's wildlife watchdog, said stricter inspection and supervision of the conditions under which pandas are kept will be introduced.
"Pandas are seen as the flagship of global wildlife protection efforts," the administration said in a statement issued on June 29. "They are supposed to have a positive impact, promoting awareness, knowledge and concepts in terms of wildlife and environmental protection."
Zoos should not profit from allowing photos taken with pandas or feeding them, the administration said.
Last May, the SFA conducted a nationwide inspection of the panda leasing system and found many problems. Some lease arrangements were halted because the animals were being displayed in inappropriate ways or were being exploited to make money
There were 394 captive pandas in China at the end of January. The Wolong National Nature Reserve at Wenchuan, Sichuan province, has 201, the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in Sichuan has 140, and the rest are in Shaanxi province.
The Chengdu base has lent 30 pandas to 14 zoos around the country, while the Wolong reserve leases 69 pandas for display at more than 30 zoos.
Zhang Zhihe, the head of the Chengdu base, said some pandas have died at zoos.
"There is a set procedure to follow, but we have seen violations where the enclosure, keeper, veterinarian or food supply chain did not meet the required standards," Zhang said.
Zoos applying to borrow pandas will have to send their keepers and veterinarians to Wolong for three months of training, and the reserve will send inspection teams to the zoos every year.
Wang Dajun, a professor of wildlife protection at Peking University, said the leasing system urgently needs government regulation.
"In some zoos, visitors can have 'interactions' with giant pandas if they pay, which is not only bad for the health of giant pandas but also sends the wrong message to the public," he said.
"Pandas are an endangered species; they are not pets."