Taipei Zoo staff attend to the ailing giant panda Tuan Tuan on Friday. Photo: Taipei Zoo via AP

HEALTH ISSUES: After experiencing several seizures and developing a brain lesion, the popular zoo attraction would not have been able to live comfortably, zoo staff said

By Lee I-chia / Staff reporter

Tuan Tuan (团团), an 18-year-old male panda at the Taipei Zoo, died at 1:48pm yesterday, the zoo said.

Tuan Tuan experienced three seizures at 1:05am, 1:56am and 3:54am yesterday.

The zoo's medical team administered an anticonvulsant drug, but the panda continued to have seizures until 7:03am, when the veterans injected it with stronger anticonvulsant and sedative drugs, the Taipei Zoo said yesterday.

Tuan Tuan had been moved into palliative care last month for a deteriorating health condition, after he suffered three seizures in late August. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan on Sept. 18 showed that he had a brain lesion.

Tuan Tuan regained consciousness for a while yesterday morning, but was weak and could only lie on the floor resting, unable to eat, zoo spokesperson Eric Tsao said.

The zoo's medical team deemed his condition irreversible after conducting a physical examination and viewing a computerized tomography (CT) scan result. Given that Tuan Tuan would not be able to live without struggle or have a good quality of life, the medical high team used a dose of anesthetic to euthanize the animal, Tsao said.

An autopsy is to be conducted for research purposes, and the zoo would preserve his fur and bones, while the possibility of cell preservation is being investigated, he said.

The zoo plans to hold an event to celebrate Tuan Tuan's life, with details to be announced later, he added.

Tuan Tuan is one of two giant pandas — along with a female, Yuan Yuan (圆圆) — gifted by China in 2008 when the animals were four years old, to mark increasingly close relations with Taiwan under the administration of then-president Ma Ying -jeou (Ma Ying-jeou).

Tuan Tuan was a source of joy for Taiwanese young and old, and a facilitator of exchanges between Taiwan and China, the Mainland Affairs Council said, adding the council feels a deep reluctance to part with the panda.

China's Taiwan Affairs Office spokeswoman Zhu Fenglian (朱凤莲) said her agency expresses its sorrow and thanked the Chinese experts and Taipei Zoo staff for their efforts to save the panda.

The gifting of Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan to Taiwan 14 years ago was a symbol for the development of peaceful relations across the Strait, and an outpouring of grief from both sides show a way to mutual understanding, she said.

Ma's office yesterday issued a statement to express condolences, in which it also thanked Tuan Tuan for arriving in Taiwan 14 years ago, entertaining people of different ages, and becoming a cherished memory for many Taiwanese.

The statement said that hopefully there can be more living embodiments of peace like Tuan Tuan in the future, contributing to friendly exchanges between Taiwan and China.

The government of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) should advocate for similar non-governmental exchanges, it added.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Taipei mayoral candidate Chen Shih-chung (陈时中) said the news was regrettable to hear, while Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Taipei mayoral candidate Chiang Wan-an (江万安) said Tuan Tuan was a star of the Taipei Zoo and part of Taiwan's collective memory, making the news very sad.

Independent Taipei mayoral candidate Vivian Huang (Huang Shanshan), who is former Taipei deputy mayor, said it was a difficult decision for the zoo's medical team to let Tuan Tuan go, as he had become a wonderful memory for many people.

Although he was not born in Taiwan, Taipei residents recognized him as a “new Taiwanese panda,” she added.

Additional reporting by Shih Hsiao-kuang and CNA

News source: TAIPEI TIMES