Officials from the UN's cultural body meeting in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, agreed on Wednesday to add eight sites to the list, including a panda sanctuary in China and a Finnish archipelago.

Inclusion on the World Heritage list is much sought after as a country is then eligible for financial assistance and training from Unesco to help protect and manage sites.

The eight additions bring the total number of sites on the list to 820.

The Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuary in southwestern China's Chengdu province is home to 30% of the world's endangered panda population and Unesco says the bears must be protected.

Good news

"It is the largest remaining contiguous habitat of the giant panda and the most important captive breeding ground for the animal," an unnamed official from the organisation said.

A World Heritage listing obliges authorities to protect the natural habitat, and Chinese conservationists praised the decision.

Lu Zhi, a panda specialist at Peking University, told the Xinhua news agency: "To protect an animal is not just putting it living in the zoo, but keeping it alive in its home."

The Malpelo flora and fauna sanctuary off the coast of Colombia was also added to the list. It is the largest no-fishing zone in the eastern tropical Pacific.

African addition

The Kvarken archipelago, a group of 5,600 islands in Finland's Gulf of Bothnia, was also added, as was the Chongoni rock art area in Malawi, one of five new African sites.

"To protect an animal is not just putting it living in the zoo, but keeping it alive in its home"

Lu Zhi, panda specialist

Another was Harrar Jugol, a town in Ethiopia, which houses 82 mosques.

The Agave landscape in Mexico, a large site between the Tequila Volcano and the Rio Grande valley, was added to the list.

The area encloses a landscape of fields of blue agave, a plant which has been used since the 16th century to produce tequila.

Unesco also hinted that the Elbe Valley in Germany could become the first site in the list's 34-year history to be struck off if development plans near the site go ahead.

A decision on a request from Poland to change the name of the Auschwitz former concentration camp to reflect that it was set up by Nazi Germany has been deferred until next year.