En An, the world’s oldest male panda, beloved in Hong Kong, dies aged 35

En An, the world’s oldest male panda, beloved in Hong Kong, dies aged 35

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An An, the oldest known male giant the panda, who brought “good memories and heartwarming moments” to the people of Hong Kong, died on Thursday after health complications. He was 35 – or 105 in panda years.

According to a statement released by Ocean Park, the theme park where An An lived for 23 years, the giant panda showed clear signs of deterioration in recent weeks – barely touching her food and drinking only small amounts of liquid towards the end of her life. The park provided medical treatment to ease the panda’s discomfort, but his condition reached a critical state. He was euthanized on Thursday morning.

“An An is an indispensable member of our family and has grown with the park. He has also built a strong bond of friendship with locals and tourists, said Paulo Pong, chairman of Ocean Park. “His wit and playfulness will be deeply missed.”

Ocean Park set up a condolence stand at the panda enclosure, where staff placed white flowers to say goodbye to their fuzzy friend. Guest books were also posted in the conservatory for visitors to write tributes to An An.

“An An, you have brought so many good memories to everyone,” Hong Kong chief executive John Lee wrote in a statement shared on social media. “You are still with us in our hearts, rest in peace.”

China, Malaysia and the strange world of panda diplomacy

An An, who was born in China’s Sichuan province, was a gift to Hong Kong from the Chinese central government in 1999 – a soft power symbol of the city’s deepening ties with Beijing, two years after Hong Kong’s return to China after 156 years of colonial rule. China, where the giant panda originated and where it has become a national symbol, practices panda diplomacy, giving the beloved creatures as gifts all over the world.

An An arrived in the city with Jia Jia, his female companion, who died in 2016 at the age of 38. A Washington Post editor recalls singing with a group of children during a welcoming ceremony for the two. They would go on to become a bit of an obsession in Hong Kong, every act streamed live.

Since the turn of the century, thousands of locals and tourists have visited the theme park’s panda conservatory to catch a glimpse of An An and Jia Jia bathing in rock pools or munching on loose bamboo shoots. When the temperature rose, the two would bask in private air-conditioned enclosures.

The average lifespan of a wild panda is 14 to 20 years, but they can live much longer in captivity, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

In 2007, Beijing gave Hong Kong two more pandas, Ying Ying and Le Le, with the hope that they would have offspring, as pandas become increasingly vulnerable to extinction. There are around 1,800 pandas living in the wild.

For 13 years, Ying Ying and Le Le did not mate (captive pandas are notoriously uninterested in breeding unless the conditions are right), until the coronavirus pandemic struck and the park was temporarily closed to the public in the spring of 2020. Photos of the two mating were made front page news around the world. In September 2020, Ocean Park announced that although Ying Ying showed signs of pregnancy, she was not pregnant.

“We hope Ying Ying and Le Le will naturally mate again next breeding season,” Michael Boos, executive director of zoological operations and conservation at Ocean Park, said at the time.

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