Chinese Panda on Long-Term Loan to Thailand Dies Suddenly

Chinese Panda on Long-Term Loan to Thailand Dies Suddenly
Lin Hui, a female Panda on a 10-year loan from China, eats bamboo at the Chiang Mai Zoo in Chiang Mai province, northern Thailand, on Sept. 23, 2005. (Apichart Weerawong/AP Photo)

BANGKOK—A giant panda on long-term loan from China died in a zoo in northern Thailand on Wednesday, six months before she was due to return home, officials from the Chiang Mai Zoo said.

The cause of Lin Hui’s death was not immediately clear but she appeared to have become ill Tuesday morning, and her nose was seen bleeding when she laid down after a meal, said Wutthichai Muangmun, the zoo director.

She was rushed into the care of a joint Thai–Chinese veterinarian team but her condition deteriorated and she died early Wednesday morning, he said.

Tewarat Vejmanat, a veterinarian who spoke at a news conference broadcast live on the zoo’s Facebook page, said the panda, who had a health check every day, was already at an advanced age at 21, and there had been no sign of illness or any difference in her behavior before she became sick.

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 soft power diplomacy by the Chinese communist regime, which has sent pandas to many countries.

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 regime 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.

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.

“This is when we just got here, she was lying on her side. Then I saw her nose was bleeding,” she commented in one of the clips. “She looked like she had nausea. We were not sure.”

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 regime’s panda conservation project, an autopsy cannot be performed until a Chinese expert is present.

Some Thai internet users speculated that air pollution in northern Thailand, which in recent weeks has spiked to levels considered dangerous to human health, contributed to Lin Hui’s death. The zoo staff, however, said that was unlikely, as Lin Hui lived in a closed space in an area of the zoo considered to have “the cleanest air.”

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