According to officials from the Chiang Mai Zoo, a giant panda that was on a long-term loan from China has passed away in northern Thailand. The panda, named Lin Hui, was due to return home in six months. The cause of her death is currently unknown, but she was observed becoming ill on Tuesday morning, with her nose bleeding after a meal.
The zoo director, Wutthichai Muangmun, reported that Lin Hui was quickly transferred to a joint Thai-Chinese veterinary team for the care, but her condition continued to worsen and she passed away early Wednesday morning. At a live news conference on the zoo’s Facebook page, veterinarian Tewarat Vejmanat stated that Lin Hui, who received daily health checkups, was already 21 years old and had not exhibited any signs of illness or changes in behavior prior to falling ill.
“China is saddened by the death of the giant panda Lin Hui,” Wang Wenbin, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said in Beijing.
Wang said that after China learned about the panda’s illness it “immediately organized experts to guide the Thai side to carry out rescue work through video link, but unfortunately did not save her life.” He added that the Chinese authorities would soon set up a team of experts to carry out a joint investigation into the cause of death.
Lin Hui’s male mate, Chuang Chuang, who was kept with her at the Chiang Mai Zoo, died there in 2019 at the age of 19. The couple arrived in Chiang Mai in 2003 on a 10-year loan that was later extended for another 10 years.
While the loan was ostensibly for research and conservation purposes, it was generally regarded as an act of friendship by China, which has sent pandas to many countries in what is regarded as a striking example of soft power diplomacy.
When Chuang Chuang died in 2019, Thailand’s then-Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-Archa said the country had to pay $500,000 to the Chinese government in compensation. It was later reported that heart failure was the cause of his death.
Zoo director Wutthichai said the zoo has a 15-million-baht ($435,000) insurance policy on Lin Hui, who was due to be returned to China this October.
Lin Hui and Chuang Chuang had a daughter, Lin Ping, in 2009 through artificial insemination. A scheme to encourage them to mate naturally by showing them videos of pandas having sex made headlines in 2007. Lin Ping was sent to China in 2013 in what was initially said to be a one-year visit for her to find a mate but has remained there.
The life expectancy of a giant panda in the wild is about 15 years, but in captivity, they have lived to be as old as 38. Decades of conservation efforts in the wild and study in captivity saved the giant panda species from extinction, increasing its population from fewer than 1,000 at one time to more than 1,800 in the wild and captivity.
A Chinese influencer living in Thailand who identified herself as Shanshan visited the zoo Tuesday morning and posted several videos of Lin Hui on the Chinese social media platform Douyin. One of them showed her nose, which appeared bloody, and a red spot could be seen on her neck. In another clip, she was lying down while licking her nose, and there were red stain trails on a concrete slab beneath her head. Screenshots from the videos were widely shared by Thai social media users.
The cause of Lin Hui’s death will take time before it can be determined, Wutthichai said, and how and when that would be revealed will be entirely up to China. Under an agreement between the zoo and the Chinese government’s panda conservation project, an autopsy cannot be performed until a Chinese expert is present.