This is the distressing final image of a months-old panda cub which suffocated to death on a rope swing and was not discovered by staff members for a full seven hours.
Eight-month-old female cub ‘Lu Lu Zai’, the offspring of ‘Lu Lu’, died in the early hours of 9th April while she and others played unsupervised inside a cub nursery at Shenshuping Panda Base.
The panda base in Wolong National Nature Reserve, in south-western China’s Sichuan Province, belongs to the China Conservation and Research Center for Giant Pandas (CCRCGP), which has come under criticism for the death of the animal regarded as a ‘national treasure’.
In a statement put out by the research centre on 10th April, it said Lu Lu Zai was found to have suffocated on a jungle gym rope string at around 9am Beijing time the previous morning.
Her death was confirmed by a vet, who also took blood sample for further testing.
According to reports, several hundred social media users watching the panda base’s now inaccessible live stream had noticed the cub trapped in a tree.
Despite leaving numerous comments, their warnings went unanswered, Chinese state media said.
Upon review of security footage, the world’s foremost conservation centre for giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) confirmed that Lu Lu Zai died after a brief struggle lasting “several minutes”.
A final screenshot taken after sunrise shows several cubs still playing near the jungle gym as Lu Lu Zai hangs motionless from above.
Members of the public have blamed the cub’s death on staff negligence, but also questioned the research centre’s practice of separating young panda bears from their mothers at just six months.
The policy is aimed at training cubs in independence and wilderness survival, despite wild pandas known to remain with their mothers for up to two years.
It results in a heavy reliance on round-the-clock camera monitoring as panda mothers kept in separate enclosures are not able to step in to save their young.
The panda breeding centre said there would be “learnings” after the tragedy, including clear “safety loopholes” which need to be addressed at all of its bases.
Chinese media reports the panda base has three workers on night shift who need to care for more than 40 cubs.
CCRCGP said night shift staff members likely believed the motionless Lu Lu Zai was simply resting.
The centre’s director, Huang Yan, told state media that it was the first time such a freak accident had ever happened in over 30 years.
Mr Huang said panda bases otherwise often record incidents where pandas injure themselves while falling from trees.
He noted that staff members generally do not interfere with panda bear activity outdoors.
Panda mum Lu Lu, who gave birth to Lu Lu Zai on 10th August last year, appeared distressed as she paced around the boundaries of her enclosure yesterday (12th April), video shows.
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