Giant panda
Giant panda REUTERS/China Daily

A giant panda died from canine distemper at the Shaanxi Rare Wildlife Rescue and Research Centre in China, and three others have also been infected with the lethal disease.

The animal centre located in Xi'an in China's Shaanxi province put in place an emergency response system and has been closed to the public after the four pandas came down with distemper last month.

An eight-year-old female panda named Cheng Cheng died on 9 December, three days after being diagnosed with the disease, bringing the number of the animals at the centre down to 24.

After three more pandas were found to be infected, the centre was closed on 31 December, and an emergency plan was put in effect with the animals separated and the area disinfected.

"Such an epidemic has never hit our center before," Han Xueli, director of the center's general office, told China Daily. "We invited 20 experts on distemper and panda diseases from all over the country to our center for disease control, treatment and prevention."

The disease, usually seen in dogs, has a high mortality rate of 90%. Even vaccines for the disease are only available for dogs, veterinarians said.

"The vaccine available on the market now is made for dogs. There hasn't been any research done on the vaccine to see if it can prevent other animals from being effected, we can only test it and try to protect pandas. For giant pandas, the disease is a highly lethal, infectious disease. The death rate is high, over 90 percent," Jin Yipeng, associate professor from a veterinary college, told Xinuha.