Local museum or mainland nature reserve ... what happens to giant panda Jia Jia’s remains?

Government and Ocean Park still discussing what to do with the panda’s remains; they may send her back to Wolong nature reserve or keep her in a local museum

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 October, 2016, 9:44pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 October, 2017, 3:47pm

Once the oldest panda in captivity, Jia Jia will not be replaced by a new animal in the near future nor will her remains be sent to a landfill – the normal practice for animals that die at Ocean Park.

Her fate is still being discussed, with a decision expected to be made by the park and the government later this week at the earliest, according to Suzanne Gendron, the park’s executive director of zoological operations and education.

“We are not anticipating asking for more pandas,” she told the Post on Monday. “We have three giant pandas, and we are focusing on An An, Ying Ying and Le Le – and celebrating their lives.”

The necropsy – the animal equivalent of an autopsy – on Jia Jia was completed on Monday, a day after she was put to sleep at the age of 38 due to her rapidly deteriorating health.

Watch: remembering Jia Jia

Jia Jia was a mother of six before the central government sent her to Hong Kong as a gift in 1999, along with An An, the world’s second oldest male panda in human care. She is survived by three children, 12 grandchildren and two great grandchildren in mainland China.

According to the minutes of meetings of the government’s endangered species advisory committee, options for Jia Jia’s body include sending her back to Wolong Nature Reserve in Sichuan province – where she lived for 19 years – and keeping her in a local museum for educational or research purposes. No conclusion has been reached yet.

Ocean Park’s honorary adviser, Allan Zeman, said Jia Jia should be laid to rest in a civilised manner.

“She was part of the family,” he said. “If I had my choice, I’d bury her somewhere in the park just in remembrance so she can always be part of the park.”

“[She was] never any trouble at the park,” he recalled. “I used to enjoy watching the children and some of the older people come and just watch her as she walked around and slept, just kind of taking her time because she was old.”

Jia Jia’s death hurt Elke Wu, the trainer who took care of the giant panda for almost a decade.

“I think Jia Jia was already very good as the oldest giant panda in the world. It was an honour for me to take care of her, to accompany her to the end of her life,” she recalled as she cried in an interview with the Post.

Watch: Jia Jia memorial video

Describing the bear as her “first animal friend”, Wu said Jia Jia was very different from the other pandas.

“She was very selective with keepers,” she said. “If she did not know you well, she would not eat the food you fed her. If she trusted you, she could be very clingy.”

Wu said Jia Jia was very easy to care for because she led a much more organised life than other animals.

“She would put the leftovers back in the original places when she finished eating and pick certain areas to go to the toilet,” Wu said. Other younger pandas tended to throw food all over the place, she added.

The trainer also recalled that Jia Jia had a unique taste in food, with sweet food and the sports drink Pocari Sweat among her favourites.

Gendron said the giant panda reached a remarkable age as caretakers were able to apply the animal training skills they learned while working with dolphins – a technique that was later shared with panda facilities around the world.

Jia Jia, she said, was trained to present her arm for drawing blood samples and taking her blood pressure, to help carers monitor her health without having to anaesthetise her.