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Thailand panda death that sparked outrage caused by heart failure, not neglect

The Guardian logo The Guardian 2019-10-09 Kate Lamb
a panda face: Chuang Chuang, a giant panda on loan to Thailand from China, died at the Chiang Mai Zoo in September. © Reuters Chuang Chuang, a giant panda on loan to Thailand from China, died at the Chiang Mai Zoo in September.

Thailand’s Chiang Mai Zoo has been exonerated in a panda diplomacy row after autopsy results revealed that a celebrity panda that had been loaned to the zoo by China, died of heart failure and not from neglect or foul play.

The sudden death of Chuang Chuang, this September sparked outrage in China, where social media users blamed the Thai zoo for his death, suggesting it was caused by neglect or careless feeding.

Chuang Chuang was 19 when he died. In the wild pandas generally live to up to 20 years, but can survive up to another decade in captivity.

Related: Outrage in China as giant panda on loan to Thailand zoo dies

The panda, who had been on loan to Thailand since 2003 with female panda Lin Hui, was known for being obese and was famously put on a diet in 2007.

But in the wake of Chuang Chuang’s death, a Chinese-assisted autopsy has ended speculation the Chiang Mai Zoo was at fault, with results showing he died from heart failure.

“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 Tuesday.

“The cause of his death was heart failure, resulting in the lack of oxygen of internal organs and leading to his death.”

However, the Chiang Mai Zoo confirmed it would pay an unspecified amount of compensation to China as outlined in the loan agreement.

When Chuang Chuang collapsed after eating a piece of bamboo at his enclosure in the Thai zoo, panda fans lashed out at Thailand and also questioned China’s “panda diplomacy” where zoos abroad pay the country millions to host the endangered giant animals.

On Chinese social media platform Weibo one user wrote: “Please don’t rent any more pandas to Thailand! No! Chuang Chuang is probably the most bitter panda in the world! What kind of bamboo he was given eat? If you can’t afford [a panda], don’t rent it.”

Chuang Chuang and Lin Hui, who is expected to remain at the Thai zoo for the time being, were media darlings in Thailand.

Their 2005 “wedding” garnered significant media attention, and their first cub, which was subsequently sent to China, was featured on a 24-hour Panda Channel on Thai TV.

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