Chuang Chuang died suddenly last month while on loan to Chiang Mai Zoo, sparking outrage online as pandas in the wild live 14-15 years, but up to 30 years in captivity.
Chuang Chuang was 19.
Chuang Chuang, a resident of Chiang Mai Zoo since October 2003, died on Sept 16 aged 19 after years of living in an air-conditioned enclosure with female Lin Hui.
The pair were on loan from the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu as part of Beijing’s so-called “panda diplomacy” and were supposed to be returned in 2023.
China “urgently dispatched panda experts” to form a Chinese-Thai “joint working team” to perform an autopsy to determine the cause of death.
Thailand had long obsessed over Chuang Chuang and Lin Hui, as the notoriously sex-shy pair had struggled to conceive and were shown video clips of successful panda couplings in an attempt to stir their libidos.
Thanks to artificial insemination, Lin Hui in 2009 finally gave birth to Linping, spurring a widely watched live 24-hour “Panda Channel”.
News of Chuang Chuang’s death struck a chord among Chinese internet users, as trending discussions on the “suspicious circumstances” of his demise drew more than 260 million views on social media platform Weibo.
Users criticised the zoo for giving him mature bamboo – usually harder and used to make furniture – as food, though it remained unclear if photos shared were actually of Chuang Chuang.
“Bamboo?? Sure these aren’t wooden sticks?” said a user.
They also expressed concerns for his female counterpart, using a hashtag “We want Panda Lin Hui to come home”.
“The countries that rent giant pandas can keep them if they raise them well, or else they should send them back,” said Ningbo Ni Shao, a local media outlet.
The Chiang Mai Zoo said any speculation in China that Chuang Chuang, who was known for being obese, may have died due to careless feeding, neglect or even some kind of attack had proved unfounded, noted a report by Reuters.
“The autopsy and analysis by Chinese-Thai experts showed that the nutrition health of Giant Panda Chuang Chuang was good, no external wounds were found and no foreign objects were found in his trachea,” the zoo said in a statement released yesterday. (See report here.)
“The cause of his death was heart failure, resulting in the lack of oxygen of internal organs and leading to his death.”
The zoo confirmed that Thailand would nonetheless pay unspecified compensation to Beijing as outlined in the original loan agreement.
Chuang Chuang's mate, Lin Hui, would stay at the zoo for the time being, it said.