An An, the world's oldest giant panda, has died 0:48
China's famous "panda diplomacy" is on the test now that a Taiwanese giant panda suffered a life-threatening brain injury.
The Taipei Zoo told CNN on Thursday that they had asked experts in China to help treat their giant panda, Tuan Tuan, after an MRI revealed the damage.
Giant panda Tuan Tuan receives an MRI scan at the National Taiwan University Veterinary Hospital on September 18, 2022.
They hope to get help treating Tuan Tuan after he started behaving abnormally, lost his appetite and had a three-minute seizure in late August.
But the request raises the prospect of a delicate diplomatic balancing act, given that relations between China and Taiwan have frayed since US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the self-governing island in August.
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China considers Taiwan part of its territory, despite never having ruled it, and has vowed to "reunify" it with mainland China, by force if necessary.
Since Pelosi's visit, the pressure on the island has increased with a series of military exercises on its doorstep.
Now, animal lovers on both sides of the Taiwan Strait will be waiting for the response to the zoo's petition.
A gift of goodwill and a political message
Tuan Tuan and his partner Yuan Yuan were presented to Taiwan by China in 2008 as a goodwill gift from Beijing, as part of its long-standing practice known as "panda diplomacy."
But the two animals, whose names combined form the Chinese word for "gathering," were also a subtle political message of the Communist Party's views on Taiwan.
There have been some signs that Beijing is willing to give a peace offering.
Zhu Fenglian, a spokesman for China's Taiwan Affairs Office, said the Taipei Zoo had notified the Giant Panda Protection Research Center in Chengdu, Sichuan province, of Tuan Tuan's status.
And the state media China Daily reported on Wednesday that experts from China were willing to provide technical support to the zoo and help the animal.
A Taipei Zoo spokesman said it "greatly appreciates the help," but added that the Chinese experts "have not specified whether they intend to send any experts this time."
The spokesman said that in the past, "both sides have cooperated closely to care for giant pandas" and that they "exchange knowledge on a regular basis."
"In the past, when the panda gave birth, they also sent experts to help us," the spokesman added.
Since being gifted to Taiwan, Tuan Tuan and her partner Yuan Yuan have given birth to two cubs, one in 2013 and one in 2020.
In a statement, the zoo said Tuan Tuan was "recovering under observation" and that it was "necessary to await all test results before clarifying the cause [of his illness]".
The average lifespan of pandas in the wild is 14 to 20 years, but they can live much longer in captivity, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
Tuan Tuan turned 18 in August.
Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan, the two giant pandas gifted by China, eat bamboo leaves inside their new enclosure at the Taipei Zoo on January 26, 2009.
In July, the world's oldest male giant panda in captivity, named An An, died in captivity at Hong Kong's Ocean Park.
He was 35 years old.
In 2017, the International Union for Conservation of Nature elevated the species from "endangered" to "vulnerable" after its population grew nearly 17% in the previous decade.
That move was followed by the Chinese government last year after the wild giant panda population swelled to 1,800.
Giant pandas are notoriously difficult to breed in captivity, but after years of decline, their numbers in the wild have increased in recent years.