World's oldest panda dies as twins are born

Joy at the birth on Tuesday of another pair of panda twins in China quickly turned to sorrow following the announcement that the world’s oldest giant panda had died after suffering from eating difficulties.

Thirty-six-year old Mei Mei, equivalent in age to a 108-year-old human, died at a zoo in southern China’s Guilin city after emergency attempts to save her failed, the Xinhua news agency reported.

“She had entertained numerous visitors from both home and abroad and remained the most popular animal in the zoo throughout her stay here,” zookeeper Chen Qian was quoted as saying.

Mei Mei had been suffering from eating difficulties and gradual failure of varied organs, sources at the zoo said.

The average life expectancy for a panda is about 20 years.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Wolong Giant Panda Centre in the south-western province of Sichuan announced the birth of a pair of panda twins, just days after another pair of twin cubs were born there.

Seven-year-old Guo Guo gave birth to her cubs on July 8, five days after another giant panda, Ying Ying, also gave birth to twins, Xinhua said.

“It was so surprising that Guo Guo gave birth to twins, as it was her first time being a mother,” Li Desheng, assistant director of the centre, was quoted as saying.

Li said mother and babies were in good health after they “safely passed the first three post-delivery risky days”.

One of the babies was taken from Guo Guo as the endangered species usually only nurtures one cub at a time, the centre said. Experts will initially rear the other cub before returning the baby to the mother when it becomes stronger.

Mei Mei was taken into captivity in 1985 to keep her from starving because of a shortage of bamboo.

In 1989, experts tried to impregnate her through artificial fertilisation, but failed.

The survival of the panda is of great concern to many Chinese as well as environmentalists and animal lovers around the world.

Deforestation, development and poaching have contributed to their demise.

Giant pandas have a relatively low fertility rate, as they only mate for three to four days between March and May every year, Xinhua said.

By the end of 2004, China had raised 163 giant pandas in captivity, while almost 1 600 of the rare animals were believed to be living in the wild in Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces.—Sapa-AFP


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