A giant panda on permanent loan to a zoo in Thailand since 2003 has unexpectedly passed away on Monday, sparking outrage in China where it originated.
Local media reports that the 19-year-old male panda, named Chuang Chuang, collapsed after eating bamboo Monday afternoon in Chiang Mai Zoo, Chiang Mai Province, Thailand. Pandas, which generally live 14-20 years in the wild, live up to 30 years in captivity, according to WWF.
Chinese social media has since erupted with calls to no longer allow any of the animals to be lent to the country. On Sina Weibo, a hashtag about Chuang Chuang’s death has drawn over 250 million views, China Morning Post reports.
“You must take good care of our national treasures loaned to you, Thailand,” another user wrote. “Now Chuang Chuang is gone. It’s no use saying anything. If you can’t take care of our national treasures, don’t borrow them. I’m so sad.”
Many expressed doubt on the quality of food and facilities at the Chiang Mai zoo.
“Please don’t rent any more pandas to Thailand!” one user said. “No! Chuang Chuang is probably the most bitter panda in the world! What kind of bamboo he was given to eat? If you can’t afford [a panda], don’t rent it.”
Meanwhile, others have criticized China’s program of lending its endangered giant pandas abroad, part of its “panda diplomacy” in which zoos from other countries pay millions to host the animals.
Chuang Chuang had been on loan to the Chiang Mai Zoo, along with his mate, Lin Hui since 2003.
Images of mourners consisting of visitors and staff from the zoo laying flowers near the empty enclosure of Chuang Chuang emerged on Wednesday.
“We loved and nurtured him so much. I hope everyone will miss him like we do,” zookeeper Kannikar Chantarangsi was quoted as saying on Tuesday.
The zoo has yet to release the panda’s cause of death as autopsy results are still pending. Experts from the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda are set to arrive in Thailand on Thursday to investigate the death.
Chuang Chuang and his partner Lin Hui were “married” in November 2005 at a traditional Chinese wedding ceremony overseen by a Chinese diplomat to mark Chiang Mai Zoo’s 28th birthday.
They became instant celebrities in Thailand after Lin Hui gave birth in 2009. Lin Hui conceived through artificial insemination after Chuang Chuang failed to impregnate her after numerous attempts at coupling. It was a remarkable achievement since baby pandas are rarely born in captivity. The offspring was eventually returned to China.