Victory! Suffering Pandas YaYa & LeLe At The Memphis Zoo Will Finally Be Sent To A Sanctuary In China

UPDATE! A huge victory for giant pandas YaYa, 22, and LeLe, 24, who will be sent back to their homeland of China, according to a statement from the Memphis Zoo. In Defense of Animals and Panda Voices, who have been lobbying for the pandas’ release for nearly two years, announced the news today.

“After far too many years of suffering in a grossly inappropriate zoo exhibit, YaYa and LeLe will finally get improved care at a specialized panda refuge in their homeland,” said Brittany Michelson, Captive Animals Campaigner for In Defense of Animals.

“We applaud the Memphis Zoo and Chinese authorities for making the ethical decision to return the pandas to China once the loan contract ends in April 2023. We thank Billie Eilish and our many thousands of supporters worldwide for helping us encourage the zoo to do the right thing,” continued Michelson. “We are delighted to celebrate this momentous victory. Animals suffer tremendously in zoos, and we hope this will prompt all zoos to put animals’ needs first and release them to accredited sanctuaries.”

YaYa and LeLe have been suffering at the Memphis Zoo since 2003. The pandas are visibly distressed and malnourished and spend their days pacing or sleeping, clearly bored in their dirty, small enclosure. YaYa has a chronic skin condition and LeLe has significant teeth issues resulting in broken molars.

“We are overwhelmed with joy at the news of YaYa and LeLe returning home to China!” said Taciana Santiago of Panda Voices.

“We thank the Memphis Zoo for allowing this to happen and hope they provide the pandas the conditions they need to be fit to endure the long travel. We will continue to monitor their situation until we are sure they are in a suitable environment,” continued Santiago. “We look forward to seeing them live a life of retirement and peace in China. Big thanks to In Defense of Animals and all of our supporters who stayed vigilant on this journey! King LeLe and Queen YaYa will soon be home!”


December 8th: Animal lovers from around the world have voiced their concern over captive pandas YaYa and LeLe at the Memphis Zoo. The latest call to action urges authorities to send the giant pandas to a specialized panda refuge when the zoo’s loan contract ends in April of 2023. 

As previously reported by WAN, In Defense of Animals, Panda Voices, Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, as well as several other animal advocacy organizations, have expressed concern regarding the pandas’ welfare. Growing awareness about their condition on social media has drawn the attention of many, including famed pop musician Billie Eilish, who tweeted about YaYa and LeLe’s condition and the people who have witnessed the pandas’ situation first-hand.

Twenty-two-year-old YaYa and 24-year-old LeLe are among the youngest pandas in captivity in the U.S., yet they look considerably older than other captive pandas who are over 30 years of age. The pandas are distressed and malnourished and spend their days pacing or sleeping, clearly bored in their dirty, small enclosures. YaYa has a chronic skin condition and LeLe has significant teeth issues resulting in broken molars.

In Defense of Animals and Panda Voices continue to expose the pandas’ suffering and have made repeated attempts to meet with Memphis Zoo President Matt Thompson to address concerns about the pandas. In Defense of Animals sent a letter in July about the pandas’ health and well-being to Thompson, followed by a second letter in September. There has been no response to either of the letters.

An In Defense of Animals’ alert calling for the pandas’ retirement on November 18th has already accumulated more than 25,000 supporters. A previous alert for the pandas published in 2021 gained over 88,000 supporters.

Through The Freedom of Information Act, requests have been made for the pandas’ medical records, as well as records of seven gazelles, and African elephant Tyranza, who were sent to the zoo in June of 2021. Unfortunately, the requests have gone unanswered.

“It is unacceptable that the Memphis Zoo continues to refuse to release information or have a conversation with us about the health and wellbeing of giant pandas YaYa and LeLe,” said Brittany Michelson, Captive Animals Campaigner for In Defense of Animals. “If the zoo truly cares about the pandas, they would agree to meet with us to address our questions and concerns. There are thousands of people across the globe who are deeply worried about the poor health of the pandas, and yet the zoo fails to acknowledge these concerns.”

“After far too many years of suffering in an inappropriate zoo exhibit, it is time for YaYa and LeLe to finally get the care they truly deserve at a specialized panda refuge in their homeland,” added Michelson. “We are calling on the Memphis Zoo and Chinese authorities to commit to returning the pandas to China once the loan contract ends in April 2023. It is also of utmost importance that the zoo makes immediate improvements to the pandas’ diet and care so that they will be fit to travel overseas.”

Please help by urging The Memphis Zoo to retire YaYa and LeLe to a specialized panda refuge in China once their contract ends in April 2023, HERE! 

Content courtesy of In Defense of Animals. Help them continue fighting for animals, people, and the environment by making a donation HERE!

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