A court in China's central Sichuan province convicted 20 people for killing giant pandas and selling the rare animals' skins, a pro-Beijing newspaper reported Friday.

The Chinese-language New Evening Post said the culprits were caught with the help of residents in Pingwu county in the northern part of the province but did not elaborate.Pingwu is one of the few areas in southwest China where the giant panda, an endangered species and a national symbol, is found in the wild.

The report identified only two defendants, Hu Tianyin and Wang Jinhua. It said some defendants received life terms and others received lighter sentences in the April 8 trial.

The New Evening Post did not give details of how the gang operated or say how many of the animals were killed.

China's panda population, just under 1,000, has been declining for the past five years because a rare flowering cycle of the arrow bamboo, the animals' main food, has caused many of the plants to die.