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Panda dies suddenly in Chinese zoo amid mistreatment claims

By Wilfred Chan, CNN
February 18, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Giant pandas such as this one are endangered, with an estimated 1,600 left in the wild and around 300 living in zoos.
Giant pandas such as this one are endangered, with an estimated 1,600 left in the wild and around 300 living in zoos.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • After claiming panda was gone for "mating," zoo admitted panda was dead
  • Panda died from organ failure after internal bleeding, says zoo
  • Visitors reported seeing the panda living in a dirty enclosure, "abused" by staff

(CNN) -- When visitors to China's Zhengzhou Zoo noticed its seven-year-old female giant panda, Jin Yi, was missing, zoo officials initially claimed she had been sent away for "mating."

Days later, they admitted the panda had died of organ failure after bleeding from gastroenteritis.

In a press event, the zoo told reporters the panda suddenly began refusing food on February 7. The next day, its physical and mental health "quickly deteriorated," and it died in the early morning of February 9.

Torture claim

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But after the zoo's initial false statements, some observers have questioned whether the panda had been abused or even tortured to death.

When journalists visited the panda enclosure after Jin Yi's death, they reported seeing the habitat riddled with feces, some of it even mixed in with the bamboo.

Chinese state media also quoted visitors who recalled seeing zoo officials make money by forcing the panda to pose for pictures with guests in the summer heat, whipping her if she disobeyed.

Others said that the panda was fed a meager diet of corn cakes instead of a proper diet of bamboo.

Autopsy

The zoo has categorically denied all allegations of mistreatment.

"The panda even ate better food than people. Some vegetables were even squashed before fed to her. There was absolutely no abusing," the zoo's media chief told reporters.

He added that there would be no firm conclusions about the panda's death until autopsy results arrived, which could take at least two weeks.

Nonetheless, the panda's sudden demise left a bitter taste in the mouths of many, some of whom saw it as another example of a society gone awry.

"The death of the Zhengzhou Zoo's panda reflects reality," complained one Chinese microblogger.

"First, it's customary to lie to the public. Second, anyone with even a little bit of power uses it to oppress people or animals... they have no respect for the world."

Zoo: Oxygen deprivation killed giant panda cub

Dayu Zhang and Steven Jiang of CNN Beijing contributed reporting.

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