Goodbye, Pan Pan: World’s Oldest Male Panda Dies

He was a prolific panda papa

Pan Pan
Pan Pan sired around 25 percent of all pandas in captivity. Xinhua

As 2016 winds to an end, the world is taking stock of those left behind by a tumultuous year. And the list of celebrity deaths just got an adorable animal addition: According to multiple reports, Pan Pan, the world’s oldest male panda, is dead at age 31.

One of the male panda’s keepers in China’s Sichuan Province told Chinese state media outlet Xinhua that the panda’s age was equivalent to about 100 human years and that his health had deteriorated in recent days. He was diagnosed with cancer in June, but an autopsy is scheduled nonetheless. He had been living in what one reporter called a “nursing home” for pandas, Xinhua reports—complete with fresh bamboo leaves and steamed corn to munch on.

Pan Pan wasn’t just an adorable black-and-white animal: He was a prolific patriarch. Pan Pan sired 25 percent of all pandas in captivity—over 130 children and grandchildren during his lifetime. As Serenitie Wang and Ben Westcott of CNN note, the animal’s virility and willingness to mate helped save his species. Not only did Pan Pan father the first panda that survived in captivity, but his descendants are now scattered around the world.

Given the fragility of pandas, that’s an accomplishment indeed. Breeding pandas in captivity is difficult: As National Geographic’s Christine Dell’Amore reports, females ovulate just once a year, mating pairs must be sympatico and know how to get it on. And after a strange pregnancy process, their cubs are extremely vulnerable. There’s also an ongoing debate about whether pandas are better off in captivity or not: It costs millions of dollars to breed them, and many experts argue that it makes more sense to conserve their habitat instead.

Pan Pan’s death comes amid a spate of other panda news, from the death of Jia Jia, the world’s oldest female panda, in October to the removal of the giant panda species from the world’s endangered list. Pan Pan, however, will live on in his many children and perhaps in name as well. In 1990, the world's oldest panda, a 36-year-old female named Basi, served as model the mascot for the Asian Games in Beijing. Ironically, her name was Pan Pan—a sign, perhaps, that the granddaddy of so many pandas will live on in memory.

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