Japan's oldest giant panda dies

People in Kobe are mourning the death of Japan's oldest giant panda. Tan Tan was 28.

Officials at Oji Zoo in Kobe City say her age was equivalent to about 100 human years.

Tan Tan was born in 1995 at a breeding center in China's Sichuan Province and was lent to Kobe City's Oji Zoo in 2000 to lift the spirits of residents as they recovered from the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, which devastated the city in the same year she was born.

Many zoo visitors were enthralled by Tan Tan's charming appearance.

Tan Tan died on March 31 after enthralling visitors for over two decades.

Zoo director: Tan Tan was 'the sun' to local people

At a news conference on Monday afternoon, zoo director Kako Yujiro said the giant panda had given courage to Kobe's residents after the earthquake.

"She was like the sun to us, making people smile. I am just grateful for her," he said.

Tan Tan was supposed to be sent back to China in 2020 when her lease to Japan expired. But the coronavirus pandemic delayed her return several times.

In 2021, she was diagnosed with a heart disease and underwent treatment.

The zoo says her appetite and time spent exercising have decreased in recent years, and her physical functions have been declining.

Tan Tan suffered cardiac arrest late on Sunday. Zoo keepers tried to resuscitate her but were unsuccessful.

Saying good-bye

Following the announcement of Tan Tan's death, people flocked to the zoo to say goodbye to their cherished friend.

A woman in her 60s said the giant panda gave encouragement to quake-hit Kobe City. She added that Tan Tan's 23 years in the city shined like a diamond.

A woman in her 20s said she came from Osaka City. "I have seen her since I was a child. I'm sad because she's been the reason for me to come to this zoo. I loved her adorable appearance," she said.

Zoo keeper Umemoto Ryoji reflected on Tan Tan's final years while her physical condition deteriorated. "It hasn't always been fun. We went through hardships in the last few years, but we have countless memories together, and I'm glad she was loved by so many people," he said.

On its X post on Wednesday, Oji Zoo gave thanks to TanTan's fans, who offered flowers.