by Randy Lau
Everyone is familiar with the beloved black and white bear. Giant pandas, native to China’s southwestern forests, are creatures of high intelligence and are known for their excessive love of bamboo. We all might have seen pandas at a zoo once in our lifetime and they are such a fantastic sight to behold! Yet, giant pandas are still in a state of distress; their population is still decreasing to this day. Organizations like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) protect species like the giant panda from overall extinction; by doing things like putting them in zoos and reservations for protection. However, one panda, the world’s oldest, captive panda, has recently passed on.
Jia Jia the panda, 38 years old, died on October 16, 2016 at Ocean Park, a theme park in Hong Kong, China. Jia Jia was born in the disappearing bamboo forests of Qingchuan in the Sichuan province in 1978. Soon after, she was rescued and brought to the Wolong Panda Reserve. There she took part in the panda breeding program. In 1999, she came to Ocean Park and lived the rest of her life in peaceful bliss amongst people.
Danny Mok at the South China Morning Post said, “The average lifespan for a captive panda is about 25 years compared to roughly to 20 years in the wild.” However, Jia Jia lived beyond those numbers, she lived to be about 114 years old in a human perspective. Jia Jia was known to be the oldest panda in captivity, but she suffered from many health conditions. She was ailed with arthritis, high blood pressure, and had cataracts in both of her eyes. Despite these illnesses she suffered, she still lived her life in the park very well. Danny Mok described her at the time as, “quiet, maternal, and affable.”
Jia Jia’s health began to deteriorate within two weeks nearing the end of October, stated a press release from Ocean Park. She began to eat less than her normal amount of 22 pounds to about 6.5 pounds of food. She soon lost interest in her food and water and began to lie down on the ground most of the time. Ocean Park and professionals from the Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conversion Department finally decided to euthanize Jia Jia instead of letting her suffer from her illnesses. The Director for Veterinary Service at Ocean Park, Dr. Paolo Martelli, put Jia Jia down at her den at 6 P.M. on October 16, 2016. Leo Kung Lin-cheng, Ocean Park’s chairman, said in a press release, “Jia Jia was a member of our family who had spent 17 wonderful years with Hong Kong people, and she will be deeply missed. We also want to thank Jia Jia for all of the wonderful things she brought the people of Hong Kong and our visitors from around the world, as she was a true ambassador of conservation and educational messaging.” Jia Jia gave birth to six children while she was in the breeding program, so she will live on through her kids. Giant pandas are loved by all and the conservation of this animal is essential to our society. Would you like to wake up one day knowing they are all gone? I hope not.