Mao Mao, a nine-year old panda who had given birth to five cubs, had not been seen at the Wolong Panda Reserve since the Sichuan earthquake on May 12. On Monday of this week, her body was found under the ruins of her stone enclosure.

The current home page of the (Washington DC) National Zoo's panda page reports her death and says, "Mao Mao was a valuable member of the panda community and will be missed." An AP story on Mao Mao points out the larger peril the earthquake has posed for the Wolong panda breeding program, since many of the females were in the "falling in love" season and were newly impregnated. Also, much of the panda sperm stored in freezers at the reserve, to maximize genetic diversity, may have been lost.

Her keeper, He Changgui, mourns at her grave. According to the AP, "he had cared for the panda since she was 3, speaking to her in the local Sichuan dialect as he worked.

"It's like you could say something and she would understand," he said. "If you were happy, she was happy too."

I do love the idea that Mao Mao spoke not just Chinese but the Sichuan dialect. After all, it was her native region.
(Thanks to Margot Griffith.)

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to