CHIANG MAI, Thailand (Reuters) - Chinese panda experts and Thai officials on Thursday began preparing for an autopsy of beloved giant panda Chuang Chuang, who died unexpectedly this week at the Chiang Mai Zoo in northern Thailand while on loan from Beijing.
The death of 19-year-old Chuang Chuang sparked mourning among Thai fans and an outcry on Chinese social media, where a hashtag seeming to blame Thailand was viewed 250 million times.
Zoo officials said there had been little sign Chuang Chuang was suffering health problems before his death on Monday. Pandas generally live 14-20 years in the wild but can live up to 30 years in captivity.
The autopsy should take no more than seven days and then Chuang Chuang's body would go to China as per an agreement with Beijing, said Sumet Kamolnoranat, deputy director of the Zoological Park Organisation.
"A working team between Chinese and Thai officials has been formed and their progress will be notified in future updates,” a statement from the Thai zoo on Thursday said.
Chinese and Thai officials were also discussing whether Chuang Chuang's mate, Lin Hui - the only remaining panda in Thailand - should be returned to China, a Chinese official said.
"For Lin Hui, I understand that there are some concerns about her being alone and her loneliness. We have to talk about this later," said Ren Yisheng, the Chinese Consul General in Chiang Mai.
The panda pair, on loan from China since 2003, were celebrities in Thailand after Lin Hui gave birth in 2009. Baby pandas are rarely born in captivity and the offspring was eventually returned to China.
Lin Hui conceived through artificial insemination after Chuang Chuang failed to impregnate her, despite being shown videos dubbed "panda porn" meant to encourage them to mate.
Pandas are famously difficult to breed in captivity.
On Thursday, Thai tourists at the zoo expressed sorrow.
"I felt sad once I knew about his death. Today, when I saw the area where he used to stay make me feel horrible," said visitor Kanchana Anatasomboon.
Bangkok resident Supatra Saraneeyatham, on his first visit to Chiang Mai, said: "I'm here with my sister and she almost cried once we saw Lin Hui alone inside."
(Writing by Kay Johnson; editing by Anna Willard)
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