Chinese-gifted panda dies in Taipei

Tuan Tuan, one of two giant pandas gifted to Taiwan from China, has died after a brief illness.

The Taipei Zoo gave no immediate cause of death but earlier reports said the panda was believed to have a malignant brain tumour, prompting China to send a pair of experts to Taiwan earlier this month to help with his treatment.

Tuan Tuan did not respond and after a series of seizures on Saturday was placed in an induced coma, according to Taiwanese news reports.

Tuan Tuan and his mate, Yuan Yuan, were gifted to the zoo in 2008 during a time of warming relations between China and Taiwan, which split amid civil war in 1949.

Both were born in China in 2004 and succeeded in having a pair of cubs in Taiwan.

The average life span for pandas in the wild is 15-20 years, while they can live for 30 years or more under human care.

Ties between Beijing and Taipei have declined sharply in the year’s since the pair’s arrival, with China cutting off contact in 2016 following the election of independence-leaning President Tsai Ing-wen, who was re-elected in 2020.

China sends pandas abroad as a sign of goodwill but maintains ownership over the animals and any cubs they produce. An unofficial national mascot, the animals are native to south-western China, reproduce rarely and rely almost exclusively on a diet of bamboo.

An estimated 1800 pandas live in the wild, while another 500 are in zoos or reserves, mostly in Sichuan, where they are a protected species but remain under threat from habitat loss.

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