Death of panda leaves many questions unanswered

Updated: 2014-02-18 09:14

By Yang Yang in Zhengzhou, Hu Yongqi and Wu Wencong in Beijing (China Daily)

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Death of panda leaves many questions unanswered

Top: A 2011 photo shows female panda Jinyi at the Zhengzhou Zoo on her arrival on March 17 from Sichuan. Tian Zhongyu / for China Daily

Left: Longsheng, a male giant panda, lives alone after Jinyi died early this month. Tang Jia / for China Daily

Right: Visitors leave flowers to express their sadness. The results of tests currently under way are expected to determine the cause of Jinyi's death. Wang Zhongju / for China Daily

Public shows concern with zoo's actions and comments, and questions its responsibility, report Yang Yang in Zhengzhou, Hu Yongqi and Wu Wencong in Beijing.

On Valentine's Day, Longsheng, a giant panda at Zhengzhou Zoo, climbed down from his wooden bed to the window and reached out slowly with his right paw to grasp a red carrot from his feeding tray. He seemed lonely without his female companion, Jinyi, who had died on Feb 9.

Seemingly oblivious to the loss, visitors thronged the zoo as usual to see the panda exhibit. They busily snapped photos and talked loudly with their families and friends. Some even knocked heavily on the glass wall to arouse Longsheng's attention. He seemed not to notice as he slowly nibbled his carrot.

Keepers had sanitized the enclosure from top to bottom after Jinyi's death from what zoo officials reported as "heart and lung failure", and the lingering odor of disinfectant still pervaded the panda house.

The cause of Jinyi's death is under investigation. A panda is normally expected to live up to 25 years, and Jinyi was only 7, a panda adolescent.

Questions have been raised whether management practices at the zoo contributed to her death. Scrutiny intensified when the zoo gave contradictory accounts to explain why Jinyi was not in the compound.

A final report will be issued in 10 to 15 days after the Veterinary Institute of Academy of Military Medical Sciences further examines tissue and fluid samples from Jinyi's body.

Differing stories

Born in 2007 in Wolong, Jinyi was one of the stars in celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.

Preliminary diagnoses showed she died of acute gastroenteritis that led to heavy bleeding and severe shock. She might have been infected by parvovirus, a virus that can infect dogs and other animals, experts said.

When zoo visitors found Jinyi missing, they asked what happened to her. She was already dead, but Li Chaojun, head of the department of animal management at the zoo, said the panda had been sent back to Wolong for mating, which usually takes place in April. Later, on Feb 13, the zoo admitted at a news conference that Jinyi had died.

That sparked a hurricane of questions. People wanted to know why the zoo had lied and what it had been trying to hide.

"It is my fault," department head Li said of the false explanation. "I did not know what to say if people asked me what the cause of the death was. So I said she went back to Wolong for mating. We had nothing to hide."

The different explanations mystified Qiu Yu of the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda in Sichuan province, where Jinyi was originally raised. Qiu said the center was unaware of the zoo's first explanation, and he didn't know why the zoo would have made such a statement.

Suspicions arose that the zoo might have wanted to conceal the news from the public to mask what could turn out to be its own failure to provide proper care for the pandas.

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