BANGKOK – A giant panda that China gifted Thailand last decade died Monday at the Chiang Mai Zoo. He was 19.
Chuang Chuang’s cause of death in Northern Thailand was still unknown on Tuesday afternoon as autopsy results were still pending, official sources said.
Chiang Mai Zoo director Wutthichai Muangman said in a press conference that caretakers found the giant panda dead at 4.28 pm local time on Monday and were unable to revive him.
The director said Chuang Chuang collapsed soon after eating bamboo leaves.
The panda’s death had become a trending topic Tuesday on Twitter in Thailand, with more than 50,000 users tweeting their sadness and condolences. This was especially the case in Chiang Mai, where the zoo’s pandas have become a tourist attraction.
Wuthichai said the body was at a Chiang Mai veterinary clinic, where the autopsy to establish the cause of death was being conducted as agreed with Chinese authorities.
Zookeepers also mourned Chuang Chuang’s death.
The animal had gained popularity along with Lin Hui – the other panda in captivity in Chiang Mai – after appearing on a TV channel that monitored their activities around the clock.
The panda’s transfer to Thailand came as part of the so-called “panda diplomacy,” through which China seeks to project a softer image and deepen ties with other countries by lending them the animals.
Chuang Chuang, or Tewan (Angel) in Thai, was born on Aug. 6, 2000, at the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda in Chengdu, southwestern China.
Chuang Chuang and Lin Hui arrived in October 2003 following a bilateral agreement between Thailand and China to promote research and breeding.
Lin Hui gave birth to a female panda through artificial insemination in 2009. She was named Lin Ping and was sent to Chengdu four years later.
According to the agreement, Thailand was to return Chuang Chuang and Lin Hui to China in 2013, but the deal was renewed through to 2023.
The average life expectancy of a giant panda is of about 14 to 20 years in the wilderness, however, they can live for up to 30 years if raised in captivity, according to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature.