World's oldest giant panda dies in Hong Kong

38-year-old giant panda Jia Jia had to be put down after her health rapidly deteriorated over the last two weeks.

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Jia Jia pictured after her 37th birthday on July 28, 2015.

The world's oldest ever giant panda in captivity died on  Sunday, aged 38 at a Hong Kong theme park, officials said.

Jia Jia was put down after her health rapidly deteriorated over the last two weeks leaving her unable to walk without difficulty, a statement from the Ocean Park Hong Kong theme park said.

"Her state became so debilitated that based on ethical reasons and in order to prevent suffering, veterinarians from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department and Ocean Park agreed to a humane euthanasia for Jia Jia," the theme park said.

"This is a day we knew would eventually come, but it is nevertheless a sad day for everyone at the Park, especially for the Park's keepers who took care of her over the years," Ocean Park chairman Leo Kung added.

Jia Jia eats a bamboo stick next to her cake made of ice and fruit juice to mark her 37th birthday at an amusement park in Hong Kong on July 28, 2015.

Born in the wild in China's Sichuan province in 1978, Jia Jia was given to Hong Kong in 1999 to mark the semi-autonomous city's handover by Britain two years earlier.

Her health declined over recent days, her food consumption slumped from more than 10 kgs a day to less than three and her weight also declined.

There are fewer than 2,000 pandas now left in the wild, according to the World Wildlife Fund, as their habitats have been ravaged by development.

Given their low birthrate, captive breeding programmes have become key to ensuring their survival.

According to Ocean Park, Jia Jia gave birth five times to six panda cubs.