Chinese panda on long-term loan to Thailand dies suddenly

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A giant panda on long-term loan from China has died in a zoo in northern Thailand, six months before she was due to return home, officials said.

The cause of Lin Hui’s death at Chiang Mai Zoo was not immediately clear but she appeared to have become ill Tuesday morning, and her nose was seen bleeding when she laid down after a meal, said Wutthichai Muangmun, the zoo director.

The animal was rushed into the care of a joint Thai-Chinese veterinarian team but her condition deteriorated and she died early on Wednesday morning, he said.

Tewarat Vejmanat, a veterinarian who spoke at a news conference broadcast live on the zoo’s Facebook page, said the panda, who had a health check every day, was already at an advanced age at 21, and there had been no sign of illness or any difference in her behaviour before she became sick.

“China is saddened by the death of the giant panda Lin Hui,” Wang Wenbin, a foreign ministry spokesperson, said in Beijing.

Mr Wang said that after China learned about the panda’s illness it “immediately organised experts to guide the Thai side to carry out rescue work through video link, but unfortunately did not save her life”.

He added that the Chinese authorities would soon set up a team of experts to carry out a joint investigation into the cause of death.

Giant pandas
Lin Hui, right, was due to return to China in six months (AP)

While the loan was ostensibly for research and conservation purposes, it was generally regarded as an act of friendship by China, which has sent pandas to many countries in what is regarded as a striking example of soft power diplomacy.

When Chuang Chuang died in 2019, Thailand’s then-Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-archa said the country had to pay $500,000 to the Chinese government in compensation. It was later reported that heart failure was the cause of his death.

Zoo director Mr Wutthichai said the zoo has a 15-million-baht (£350,000) insurance policy on Lin Hui, who was due to be returned to China this October.

Lin Hui and Chuang Chuang had a daughter, Lin Ping, in 2009 through artificial insemination. A scheme to encourage them to mate naturally by showing them videos of pandas having sex made headlines in 2007.

Lin Ping was sent to China in 2013 in what was initially said to be a one-year visit for her to find a mate, but has remained there.

The life expectancy of a giant panda in the wild is about 15 years, but in captivity they have lived to be as old as 38.

Decades of conservation efforts in the wild and study in captivity saved the giant panda species from extinction, increasing its population from fewer than 1,000 at one time to more than 1,800 in the wild and captivity.

Under an agreement between the zoo and the Chinese government’s panda conservation project, a post-mortem examination cannot be performed until a Chinese expert is present.

Some Thai internet users speculated that air pollution in northern Thailand, which in recent weeks has spiked to levels considered dangerous to human health, contributed to Lin Hui’s death.

The zoo staff, however, said that was unlikely, as Lin Hui lived in a closed space in an area of the zoo considered to have “the cleanest air”.

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