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Friday, January 22, 1999 Published at 19:57 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Elephant death devastates Chinese town

Luwen's untimely death: Elephants normally live 50-60 years

The central Chinese city of Zhengzhou is mourning the death of a much-loved elephant, called Luwen, at the local zoo.

The BBC's Carrie Gracie in Beijing: "Daily health bulletins made top news on local television"
Thirty keepers and vets from across China struggled to save her, but the 25-year-old Burmese elephant died of stomach problems after lying on her side for a month.

Daily reports of her failing health had topped local news bulletins, and well-wishers deluged the zoo with money, fruit and vegetables.

Some wept in the streets at the news of Luwen's death, others said they could not go to work.

Luwen's keepers and vets have apologised to the public for failing to keep the elephant alive. The zoo has promised to put up her skeleton as a memorial.

Elephants normally live for 50-60 years and Luwen's death has left the zoo's male elephant without a mate. This has shattered Zhengzhou's hopes of breeding their successor.

It has been warned that finding another elephant will be hard.

Until a few years ago, there were wild elephants in the jungles of southern China, but logging and farming have forced them to retreat over the border into Burma.

Experts say only a concerted effort to preserve their habitat will bring them back.

Giraffe deaths

Meanwhile, police and medical experts in the south-western Chinese city of Nanning are trying to discover what killed five of the six giraffes that were brought to the local zoo from South Africa a month ago.

The last surviving animal has been reported to be suffering from the same symptoms that affected the others.

Xinhua news agency reported that there are indications that the animals may have been deliberately poisoned.

Zoos across China frequently report deaths of animals due to the ingestion of plastic bags and other items thrown into pens and cages by visitors.

Many zoos have launched education programs to help warn the public about the dangers of feeding the animals.

Panda flu threat

This week the Beijing Zoo took steps to protect its pandas from another threat, human flu.

With a particularly virulent flu virus infecting the general public, the zoos isolated two baby panda cubs and their mother.

Zoo authorities told the BBC the new arrivals were now on a strong dose of traditional Chinese medicine to boost their resistance.

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