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Taipei Zoo Releases Proof-Of-Life Photo Of Panda Rumored To Be Dead

He's sitting up, staring straight at the camera, gripping the bars that hold him in.

On the ground before him, recent newspapers are visible.

The message needs no translation: This panda's not dead.

The "proof-of-life" photo was posted by the Taipei Zoo, following Chinese media reports that 11-year-old Tuan Tuan had died of distemper.

The zoo wrote in the posting, "Do not listen to Internet rumors, concerned friends," according to a translation by the news site Asian Correspondent.

The Chinese newspapers that erroneously reported on Tuan Tuan's death — including The People's Daily, the mouthpiece for the Communist Party — have apologized, the BBC reports.

The Associated Press explains that this isn't just about pandas. It's a delicate diplomatic situation:

"Giant pandas exist only in China and Beijing has often used overseas gifts of the animals to make political statements about its relationship with other governments. Beijing claims the self-governing island of Taiwan as its own territory, to be brought under its control by force if necessary.

"Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan, whose combined names translate as "Reunion," were sent by Beijing to Taiwan in December 2008 following the election of China-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou as the island's leader.

"The rumors of Tuan Tuan's death came just days before the inauguration of Ma's successor, Tsai Ing-wen, whose party formally supports Taiwan's formal independence from China."

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Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.
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