Taipei, Taiwan– Taiwan hosted a pair of Chinese experts to help a sick panda in a rare occasion of contact between the parties.
The two experts arrived on Tuesday after Taipei Zoo’s Tuan Tuan, suspected of having a malignant brain tumor, got worse. The giant panda and its companion, Yuan Yuan, were gifted to the zoo in 2008 at a time of warming relations between China and Taiwan, which split amid civil war in 1949.
Ties have soured since then, with Beijing cutting ties in 2016 following the election of pro-independence President Tsai Ing-wen, who won re-election in 2020. Polls consistently show Taiwanese rejecting the unification demand China’s policy between the parties, favoring the status quo of de facto independence instead.
China sends pandas overseas as a sign of goodwill, but retains ownership of the animals and cubs they produce. The animals are native to southwest China and are an unofficial national mascot.
An MRI on Tuan Tuan showed lesions on his brain had developed, a sign that the disease was “progressing rapidly”, the zoo said in a press release.
Zoo spokesman Eric Tsao said the parties were pooling their knowledge and experience to provide Tuan Tuan with “the best treatment and daily care”.
Chief veterinarian Lai Yen-hsueh said the experts agreed to put the surgery on hold due to the animal’s possible reaction to the anesthesia and the location of the diseased area.
The experts, Wu Honglin and Wei Ming, have long experience working on panda health and reproduction at the main panda research base in Wolong, Sichuan province of China.
Pandas, which rarely breed in the wild and feed on bamboo, remain among the world’s most endangered species. An estimated 1,800 pandas live in the wild, while another 500 are found in zoos or reserves, mostly in Sichuan.