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The BBC's Ade Akintonwa
''His health had been failing for months''
 real 28k

Monday, 29 November, 1999, 19:17 GMT
Cold War peace panda dies
hsing hsing in june 99 Hsing-Hsing was becoming ill through kidney failure

A giant panda, adored across America as a symbol of friendship between the United States and China, has died at the age of 28.

Hsing-Hsing was one of two pandas presented as a gift in 1972 to commemorate President Richard Nixon's historic trip to China, which opened diplomatic doors with the communist nation.

Hsing-Hsing was a gift of friendship and peace ... we will all miss him
Tribute from zoo staff
He was put to sleep on Sunday at Washington's Smithsonian National Zoo after becoming increasingly ill because of kidney failure. He had also been suffering from chronic arthritis.

Zoo spokesman Lisa Stevens said Hsing-Hsing had dined on a last meal of sweet potatoes, bamboo shoots, rice gruel and his favourite treat - a blueberry muffin.

"Hsing-Hsing began to decline noticeably over the last week and it became clear to us that we could not maintain his quality of life," she said, adding: "Everything became an effort for him.''

Popular pair

Hsing-Hsing and Ling Ling were an instant hit after they arrived in Washington in April 1972, attracting 20,000 visitors on their first day on view.

The mating game
Generally solitary animals
Reach sexual maturity at around six years
Reproduce once every two years
Usually single cubs, occasionally twins
Young leave their mothers after 18 months
Source: World Wildlife Fund
The pair produced a male cub in 1983, but it died three hours later of pneumonia. Ling-Ling produced four more cubs, which were either stillborn or died shortly after birth. She died in 1992 of heart failure.

In recent months, Hsing-Hsing, one of the longest-surviving pandas ever, had supplemented his bamboo shoot diet with blueberry muffins in which zookeepers concealed his medicine.

Hsing-Hsing's skin and skeleton will become part of the collection at the Museum of Natural History, while his tissue and organs will be kept for scientific research.

Pandas are one of the most endangered species in the world with fewer than 1,000 pandas still living in the wild in western China.

They are notoriously reluctant to reproduce, and experts have warned the species could be extinct within 25 years.

Scientists in China are now working on a project to clone the animal.

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See also:
22 Jun 99 |  Sci/Tech
Panda clone could save species
06 May 99 |  Asia-Pacific
China plans panda theme park
21 Jul 98 |  Asia-Pacific
Giant pandas follow Dolly
07 Apr 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Panda killers jailed
18 Jun 99 |  Sci/Tech
First cloned human embryo revealed

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