Symbol of reunion with China, panda Tuan Tuan dies in Taipei

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Tuan Tuan, one of two giant pandas given to Taiwan from China, died Saturday after a short illness, the Taipei Zoo said.

No cause of death was immediately given, but earlier reports said the panda was believed to have a malignant brain tumor, prompting China to send a pair of experts to Taiwan earlier this month to help with his treatment.

Tuan Tuan was unresponsive and, after a series of seizures, was put into an induced coma on Saturday, according to Taiwanese news reports.

Tuan Tuan and his mate, Yuan Yuan, were gifted to the zoo in 2008 at a time of warming relations between China and Taiwan, which split amid the 1949 civil war. Both were born in China in 2004 and managed to have a pair children in Taiwan.

The average lifespan of pandas in the wild is 15-20 years, while they can live for 30 years or more under human care.

Ties between Beijing and Taipei have declined sharply in the years since the pair’s arrival, with China cutting off contacts in 2016 following the election of pro-independence President Tsai Ing-wen, who was up for re-election in 2020.

China sends pandas abroad as a sign of goodwill, but retains ownership of the animals and any cubs they produce. An unofficial national mascot, the animals are native to southwestern China, rarely reproduce and rely almost exclusively on a diet of bamboo.

An estimated 1,800 pandas live in the wild, while another 500 are in zoos or reserves, mostly in Sichuan, where they are a protected species but continue to be threatened by habitat loss.

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