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Animals

World's oldest captive giant panda, Jia Jia, dies aged 38

After weeks of deteriorating health, the world's oldest giant panda in captivity has died at a Hong Kong theme park. Jia Jia was a gift from Beijing on the second anniversary of Hong Kong's independence from Britain.

Veterinarians were forced on Sunday to euthanize the world's oldest captive giant panda in Hong Kong in order to prevent the animal from further suffering.

"This is a day we knew would eventually come, but it is nevertheless a sad day for everyone at the Park, especially for the Park's keepers who took care of her over the years," Ocean Park chairman Leo Kung said in a statement.

Giant panda Jia Jia was born in the wild and was taken to a wildlife reserve's breeding centre in 1980, when she was around two-years-old.

Euthanasia to 'prevent suffering'

After taking medication for high blood pressure and arthritis in old age, Jia Jia's condition deteriorated significantly over the past two weeks. As her food consumption plummeted from 10 kilograms (22 pounds) a day to less than three, the panda dramatically lost weight.

"Her state became so debilitated that based on ethical reasons and in order to prevent suffering, veterinarians from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department and Ocean Park [authorities] agreed to a humane euthanasia for Jia Jia," the theme park said.

Race to save the species

Although pandas are traditionally symbolic animals in China, Jia Jia carried extra significance as she, along with another panda An An, were gifts from Beijing to Hong Kong in 1999 on the occasion of its second anniversary of independence from Britain.

Jia Jia, whose name translates as 'excellence,' held the Guinness World Record as the oldest living giant panda in captivity. The average lifespan for a panda is only 18 to 20 years in the wild, although that jumps to 30 for pandas in captivity.

Due to their low birth rate and the destruction of their natural habitats, captive breeding programs have become essential to ensuring the species' survival. According to Ocean Park, Jia Jia gave birth five times to six panda cubs whilst in captivity.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates that there are fewer than 2,000 giant pandas now left in the wild.

tm/jlw (AFP, AP)

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