Sa'iyda Shabazz
December 31, 2016 12:57 pm
Barcroft Media/Getty Images

Six months after being diagnosed with cancer, Pan Pan, the world’s oldest male panda died this week. He was 31. Really, 2016 took all the greats. Pan Pan, who was born in the wild of the Sichuan province of China has lived there in captivity for most of his life. In addition to being the world’s oldest panda (31 in panda years is the equivalent to 100 human years) he is also father to more than 130 pandas —they account for a quarter of the world’s panda population in captivity. Which is a pretty big deal for the troubled species. Some of his descendants live as far away as California, Washington D.C., Brussels and Edinburgh.

Because of this Pan Pan earned the moniker “hero father.” Adorable.

It has been well documented in the news that pandas have trouble breeding in captivity— it is hard to predict when a female panda will be ovulating, and female pandas are prone to “phantom” pregnancies or even faking their pregnancies to improve their quality of life. Known for his virility, Pan Pan was able to impregnate female pandas because of his “wild” nature according to the Panda Conservation and Research Center.

The Huaxi City Daily paper reported that he was one of only four male pandas capable of natural mating. He began breeding in the late 1980s before fathering his first child in 1991.

In 2016, the International Union for Conservation of Nature downgraded pandas from “endangered” to “vulnerable.” There are now 2,000 pandas in the wild and hundreds in captivity according to the IUCN via NBC News. Pan Pan, who’s name means “hope” or “expectation should be proud to know that he was a large part of that.

In a statement to CNN, a spokesperson from the Panda Conservation Center said:

He reached his peak mating in the late 1990s and eventually was taken out of rotation due to his advanced age.

His health declined rapidly in his final days, and the center said that watching it was “heartbreaking.” It is so sad that he succumbed to his battle with cancer, but how lucky are we to get to celebrate his life through his future generations.

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