Giant panda gifted to Taiwan by China dies

Giant panda Tuan Tuan
Tuan Tuan

A giant panda gifted by China to Taiwan in 2008 has died after a period of ill-health, Taipei Zoo has said.

Tuan Tuan and his breeding partner Yuan Yuan were given to Taiwan when relations with China were more cordial.

But relations have soured since then, with Beijing – which has long regarded Taiwan as a breakaway province – becoming more belligerent.

The zoo first noticed Tuan Tuan was ill in August when he began suffering seizures.

Vets from China were called to examine him, and scans showed he had a brain lesion and he was placed on medication.

The 18-year-old bear’s condition became “irreversible” and he could no longer “live a quality life”, a statement from the zoo said.

While the two bears were donated during a period of warmer relations between the neighbours, their names combined actually mean “reunion” or “unity” – a likely reference to China’s desire to re-absorb Taiwan one day.

China’s President Xi Jinping views Taiwan as part of its territory, and in a speech last month opening the Communist party Congress in Beijing, Mr Xi refused to rule out using force to unify with Taiwan.

China has used its pandas to help foster diplomatic ties with countries for more than half a century and only lends pandas to foreign zoos, which must usually return any offspring within a few years of their birth to join the country’s breeding programme.

Ever since the founder of China’s Communist Party, Mao Zedong, used pandas as a way of entering into political discussions with other countries, the animal has been a national treasure.

After their arrival in Taipei, Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan became huge attractions and Yuan Yuan gave birth to two female cubs, Yuan Zaibap in 2013 and Yuan Bao in 2020.

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