HONG KONG — An An, the world’s oldest male giant panda in captivity, died on Thursday from ill health at the age of 35.

The panda was euthanized to prevent further suffering, Hong Kong’s Ocean Park said in a statement. His “intelligence and playfulness” will be greatly missed, said park chairman Paulo Pong.

An An was gifted to the theme park 23 years ago by China’s central government, along with Jia Jia, a female believed to be the world’s oldest giant panda before her death in 2016 aged 38.

The couple have been seen by millions of tourists and schoolchildren over the years, many of whom posted their memories of An An online in the form of photos and videos on Thursday.

The average lifespan of a panda in the wild is 14 to 20 years, but it can live much longer in captivity, according to wildlife advocates from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Pong said An An’s survival beyond the average lifespan demonstrates the theme park’s continued commitment to giant pandas.

The theme park is still home to two other giant pandas – female Ying Ying and male Le Le – which were donated by the Chinese government in 2007.

China has spent half a century trying to increase the population of its iconic animals, creating vast panda reserves in several mountain ranges in an effort to save them from extinction.

Giant pandas are notoriously difficult to breed in captivity, but after years of decline, their numbers in the wild have increased in recent years.

In 2017, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) upgraded the species from “endangered” to “vulnerable” after its population increased by nearly 17% in the previous decade. . The move was taken on board by the Chinese government last year after the population of wild giant pandas jumped to 1,800.

In China, pandas are considered an umbrella species, meaning experts believe measures to protect them will help protect other species, as well as the wider ecosystem.

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