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Friday, July 23, 1999 Published at 22:11 GMT 23:11 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Oldest captive panda dies

Dudu, the world's oldest giant panda in captivity, has died in a zoo in central China's Hubei province.

The state-run Xinhua News Agency said the hot temperatures may have contributed to the 37-year-old panda's death on Thursday in Wuhan.

She had suffered from epilepsy and had been monitored 24 hours by a team with emergency medical equipment.

The average life span of a wild giant panda is about 15 years, and pandas in captivity live for 25 years.

Bamboo shortage

Born in 1962 in a nature reserve, Dudu was first transferred to a zoo in the southwestern city of Chengdu and then moved to Wuhan in 1972.

[ image:  ]
Correspondents say their renowned reluctance to reproduce in captivity along with dwindling stocks of bamboo, the panda's staple food, have reduced the number of giant pandas in China, to about 1,000.

Just over 100 are found in zoos in China and North Korea with about 15 in zoos in other parts of the world.

The panda has become a symbol for endangered animals and it is used as the international logo by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

It is known in Chinese as Daxiongmao, the "large bear cat". Its scientific name means "black and white cat-footed animal".

After years of seeking ways of saving the species, the Chinese authorities last year announced they had successfully cloned the embryo of a giant panda.

The successful cloning of Dolly the sheep in Britain in 1996, using cells from an adult animal, had prompted China's Academy of Sciences to launch an official project to clone a giant panda.

Pandas produced through artificial insemination have often died young.

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