Giant panda borrowed from China dies in Thailand zoo


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

Lin Hui’s cause of death was not immediately clear, but she appeared to have fallen ill Tuesday morning, and her nose was bleeding as she lay down after a meal, zoo director Wutthichai Muangmun said.

She was placed in the care of a joint Thai-Chinese vet team, but her condition worsened and she died early Wednesday morning, he said.

Chinese Panda Lin Hui
Chinese giant panda Lin Hui at Chiang Mai Zoo in Thailand on January 16, 2023.

Pongmanat Tasiri/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Tewarat Vejmanat, a veterinarian speaking at a press conference broadcast live on the zoo’s Facebook page, said the panda, which underwent a daily health check, was of advanced age at 21 and had none Signs of illness or the like given difference in her behavior before she became ill.

“China is saddened by the death of giant panda Lin Hui,” Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said in Beijing.

Wang said that after learning about the panda’s illness, China “immediately organized experts to guide the Thai side to carry out rescue work via video link, but unfortunately did not save their lives.” He added that Chinese authorities would soon assemble a team of experts to conduct a joint investigation into the cause of death.

Lin Hui’s male sidekick Chuang Chuang, who was kept with her at Chiang Mai Zoo, died there in 2019 at the age of 19. The couple arrived in Chiang Mai in 2003 on a 10-year loan, which was later extended for another 10 years.

While the loan was ostensibly for research and conservation purposes, it was widely viewed as an act of friendship by China, which has sent pandas to many countries in what is considered 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 the Chinese government $500,000 in compensation. It was later reported that heart failure was the cause of death.

Zoo director Wutthichai said the zoo had a 15 million baht ($435,000) insurance policy for Lin Hui, who was due to be returned to China this October.

Lin Hui and Chuang Chuang gave birth to a daughter, Lin Ping, in 2009 through artificial insemination. In 2007, a program designed to encourage them to mate naturally by showing them videos of pandas having sex made headlines there.

The life expectancy of a giant panda in the wild is about 15 years, but in captivity they lived up to 38 years. Decades of conservation efforts in the wild and captive studies have saved the giant panda species from extinction, increasing their population from fewer than 1,000 at one time to more than 1,800 in the wild and in captivity.

A Thai-based Chinese influencer posing as Shanshan visited the zoo on Tuesday morning and posted several videos of Lin Hui on Chinese social media platform Douyin. One of them showed her nose, which looked bloody, and there was a red spot on her neck. In another clip, she lay while licking her nose and red smudge marks were visible on a concrete slab beneath her head. Screenshots from the videos were widely shared by Thai social media users.

The cause of Lin Hui’s death will take some time before it can be determined, Wutthichai said, and how and when it will be known will be left to all of China. According to an agreement between the zoo and the Chinese government’s panda conservation project, an autopsy cannot be performed until a Chinese expert is present.

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