RIP Ming Ming: The world’s oldest panda dies

RIP Ming Ming: The world’s oldest panda dies

Finally giving in to the odds, Ming Ming heads to the bamboo forest in the sky at 34 years old

Ming Ming - giant panda -- diesMing Ming at the London Zoo in the early 1990s before she got deported.Sure you can climb The Great Wall, but we all know that this piece of history is no match for the country’s real, more cuddly, icon: the giant panda. Many are mourning this week as news that the world's oldest panda, Ming Ming, died at age 34 at Xiangjiang Wild Animal World in Panyu, in Guangdong Province, according to state media reports.

Ming Ming was rescued from the wild in 1977, and according to officials, died of kidney failure brought on by old age on May 7.

The giant panda defied the odds, living well beyond the average 15 years for a wild panda, or 22 years for those in captivity.

This isn't the first time Ming Ming has hit the headlines. She made a stir in the early 1990s after she was lent to London Zoo as part of Panda diplomacy -- and then deported for fighting off the male panda who was supposed to be her mate.

The loss of even one giant panda is a blow to their population as they’re one of the world’s most endangered species. There are 1,600 in the wild and about 300 in captivity, most in China in a breeding program aimed at boosting the population, although scientists have had limited success.

With Ming Ming’s death, the record of the world’s oldest panda passes to 33-year-old Bao Bao, the panda that Ming Ming fought off when she was sent to Britain.

Although sad, the news is a reminder of China’s continued efforts to save its national icon. A positive recent step towards this goal was the restoration of the majority of the country’s major giant panda reserve three years after it was seriously damaged by the devastating Wenchuan earthquake in May 2008.

The Baishuijiang Nature Reserve, located in western Gansu Province, bordering Sichuan Province, was the worst-hit natural reserve from the earthquake that left 87,000 people dead. The reserve is now home to 100 giant pandas.

Even with the Gansu reserve open, the best place for visitors to get up close and personal with giant pandas is still the the Panda Breeding Conservation Center where, for a donation of RMB 1,000, you can hold a giant panda cub. 

A borough-bred Manhattanite, editor and writer Jessica Beaton lived in Shanghai for five years and has now moved to Hong Kong.

Read more about Jessica Beaton
CNN Partner Hotels

Destination Berlin

World War II bunker and former margarine factory among cutting edge venues in ever-changing city