Meet the world's oldest panda

Hong Kong - Pandas don't usually live as long as Jia Jia, who still holds the extraordinary record of being the oldest-ever recorded member of her species. What's more interesting, though, is her life.

The oldest panda in the world was a cute and cuddly creature.
The oldest panda in the world was a cute and cuddly creature.  © IMAGO/Newscom/Singapore Press Holdings

Almost half a century ago, an extraordinary creature covered in black and white fur was born.

One of the most famous animals in the world, Jia Jia lived to be nearly double the average age of its species and set an animal world record that is yet to be beaten by any known panda.

This is Jia Jia's story, and it's truly remarkable.

How old is the oldest panda in the world?

Jia Jia was the oldest panda in history when she died in 2016 at the ripe old age of 38. A beautiful black and white specimen, this giant panda lived at Ocean Park in Hong Kong since March 1999 and was loved by all who passed her by. Having been born in 1978, this is a panda who had seen a lot of history before her time came to an end and truly deserved to become a world record holder.

The average lifespan of a giant panda sits between 17 and 18 years when in the wild and about 30 years when kept in captivity. As it is somewhat hard to establish the age of any individual wild giant panda over such a long life, Jia Jia's age of 38 makes the record for the oldest panda in captivity, as there may be other pandas in the wild who have lived for longer.

Still, Jia Jia's impressive 38 years mean that she lived about double the amount of time you'd expect from a wild panda, which is outstandingly impressive. Sadly, though, that meant her having to suffer through and witness a near-total collapse of her species in the wild, especially in southern and eastern China, as well as Vietnam and Myanmar.

Jia Jia received her first Guinness World Record in 2015 when she was awarded the oldest panda award at 37 years of age. That award then grew in August of the following year when she became 38 years old. She held both the record of the oldest panda living in captivity and the oldest panda ever in captivity.

At the time, a video from the Associated Press showed Jia Jia munching on some birthday snacks and celebrating her old age.

Sadly, Jia Jia is no longer the oldest living panda

Before Jia Jia passed away at 38 years old, she had spent a good chunk of her life at Hong Kong's Ocean Park. She was well looked after there, provided with a healthy and strengthening diet, and took plenty of naps while onlookers marveled at her stunning physique.

Sadly, though, shortly after her 38th birthday in August 2016, she suddenly saw a rapid deterioration in her health over a number of weeks. Eventually, she was so unwell that she could no longer eat, and the park's veterinarian had to make the difficult decision to euthanize her to avoid too much suffering.

It was devastating and bittersweet because while she had lived more life than she could possibly have imagined when she was born, it was still very sad to see her pass away. Tributes flowed in, and the park was rightfully praised for its handling of the situation and its care of Jia Jia over the last few decades.

When interviewed by the Associated Press a year before her passing, in celebration of her record, Ocean Park's veterinarian service director Paolo Martelli said, "Pandas typically, their life expectancy would be around 20 years, so Jia Jia being 37 is well over that limit."

"It is rare; if you look at the numbers, only eight animals out of the 397 alive now under human care have reached any age beyond 30. So that's a very, very small percentage of the panda population that lives to that age. So we can say it's quite exceptional to reach such an old age for a panda."

Jia Jia was a remarkable panda and well worth all the attention and love that she received from her owners, Guinness World Records, and her countless international fans.

Cover photo: IMAGO/Newscom/Singapore Press Holdings

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