Oldest giant panda in captivity put to sleep

Giant panda Jia Jia "celebrating" its 37th birthday last year with a cake made from ice and fruit juice at Ocean Park in Hong Kong. The panda was euthanised on Sunday after its health deteriorated rapidly over the past two weeks.
Giant panda Jia Jia "celebrating" its 37th birthday last year with a cake made from ice and fruit juice at Ocean Park in Hong Kong. The panda was euthanised on Sunday after its health deteriorated rapidly over the past two weeks.PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG • The oldest giant panda in captivity has been euthanised after its health deteriorated rapidly over the past two weeks, owner Ocean Park said in a statement on Sunday.

Jia Jia was 38 years old, or about 114 years old in human terms. The average lifespan of giant pandas is below 20 years in the wild, and about 20 years in captivity, the Hong Kong theme park said. It will share a video made in memory of Jia Jia on its YouTube channel. A memorial corner will be set up at the park on Saturday for visitors to pay tribute.

Jia Jia, whose name means "good", was gifted to Hong Kong in 1999 along with another panda, An An, to mark the second anniversary of the city's handover to China from former colonial ruler Britain.

The South China Morning Post reported that Jia Jia had been diagnosed with high blood pressure, arthritis and cataracts in both eyes.

In recent weeks, its food intake had fallen from over 10kg to less than 3kg a day. Its average weight dropped from 71kg to around 67kg.

"Over the past few days, she has been spending less time awake and showing no interest in food or fluids. Her condition became worse (on Sunday) morning," Ocean Park said, adding that the panda had difficulty walking about.

  • About Jia Jia

  • FAMILY

    Jia Jia gave birth five times to six panda cubs, which later gave it 13 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. All of them live in different parts of China. Jia Jia had not given birth since she arrived in Hong Kong.

    PERSONALITY

    Ocean Park had described Jia Jia as gentle, affable and with strong maternal instincts. It would sleep about four to five hours in the day. To encourage Jia Jia to exercise more, the park would organise outdoor feeding sessions in the mornings, according to hket.com.

    DIET

    In recent years, Jia Jia preferred the more tender bamboo shoots. Its carers would make cookies using bamboo leaves to ensure sufficient fibre in the panda's diet.

    FINAL RESTING PLACE

    Ocean Park, the Sichuan Wolong National Nature Reserve and Hong Kong's Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department will handle Jia Jia's remains, which will be released for burial at its original hometown of Wolong in Sichuan province, hket.com reported.

"Her state became so debilitated that based on ethical reasons and in order to prevent suffering, veterinarians... agreed to a humane euthanasia for Jia Jia," it added.

Ocean Park said the decision was consistent with the approved euthanasia policy of the park and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Pandas are endangered because most of their natural habitat has been destroyed for timber, farming and construction, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

A Chinese government survey in 2014 showed there were 1,864 pandas living in the wild, up 17 per cent from 2003. They have a short breeding season, with females fertile for 24 to 36 hours a year, said non-profit body Pandas International.

In July last year, Jia Jia was presented with a towering birthday cake made from ice and fruit juice with the number 37 carved on top. The occasion was also marked with a Guinness world record - for the oldest panda living in captivity.

The previous record was held by Du Du, a male panda that was also caught in the wild. It died in July 1999 at the age of 36 in a China zoo.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 18, 2016, with the headline 'Oldest giant panda in captivity put to sleep'. Print Edition | Subscribe