Basi, the world’s oldest giant panda in captivity has died aged 37 in China’s south-eastern Fuzhou province.
Her handlers in China said Basi died at an age which is the equivalent of more than 100 in human years. The panda was rescued from the Basi valley after she fell into a river and taken to the Straits Giant Panda Research and Exchange aged four or five. She was named after the valley.
Keepers at her home said they gave Basi an emotional send-off befitting a minor celebrity. She was something of a beloved star in China and her birthdays were often celebrated with gusto.
Basi outlived most of her peers by nearly two decades – Pandas in the wild have an average lifespan of about 20 years, but those in captivity generally live longer.
The panda inspired the mascot for the first Asian games in 1990 and a spokesman from the zoo described Basi as “an angel of friendship”.
A public memorial, held in the bear’s honour, was broadcast live on state television from the centre. A tribute from the Straits Giant Panda Research and Exchange Center in Fuzhou read:
“With a heavy heart, we solemnly announce today that the original model of ‘Panpan’, the mascot for the first Asian Games (in China, 1990), and an angel of friendship both at home and abroad, giant panda star Basi died at 8.50am on 13 September, 2017 at the age of 37.”
Basi spent some time abroad when she was loaned to the San Diego Zoo for six months in 1987. Giant pandas are often seen as symbols of China and are highly protected.
Giant pandas have a notoriously low reproductive rate, a key contributor – along with habitat loss – to their status as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of threatened species.
The black and white bear, which symbolises wildlife protection efforts worldwide, was previously classified as endangered. But following decades of conservation work, the bears are no longer endangered.
In July, it was reported that the oldest panda mother in the world, Haizi gave birth to twin cubs at the ripe old age of 23, an equivalent of about 80 human years.
After the “senior” female panda had been moved to live out her golden days in a nature reserve, China’s Giant Panda Conservation and Research Center announced that Haizi surprisingly, began to show signs of interest in courtship with a male panda in the spring … and four months later, the twin cubs arrived.
Haizi last gave birth to cubs when she was 19 years old. A statement from Li Desheng, a giant panda expert at the breeding center said:
“Generally, the maximum breeding age for giant pandas is 20 years old, and pandas older than that are not encouraged to participate in breeding.
“But Haizi’s success demonstrates the advanced degree of care offered at our center — it is a breakthrough in panda breeding.”