YaYa The Giant Panda Flies Home To China After Suffering 20 Years In Captivity At The Memphis Zoo

Beloved panda YaYa is finally heading back to her native land of China today after suffering 20 years of exploitation at the Memphis Zoo. 

“We are relieved that YaYa will finally have the opportunity to live the rest of her life in her native land, where she will have access to high quality care and food. We still mourn the loss of LeLe, who died prematurely due to poor care and neglect, however, take solace in knowing that he will be buried in his homeland. In Defense of Animals’ supporters urge China to end the practice of loaning giant pandas to zoos, where they are subjected to inadequate care and deprived of the opportunity to live as nature intended,” said Brittany Michelson, campaign specialist for captive animals at In Defense of Animals (IDA).

On December 21st, the Memphis Zoo announced that giant pandas YaYa and LeLe would finally be returned to China once its loan contract ended in early April. This news followed a successful two year campaign by In Defense of Animals and Panda Voices to free both Pandas. Devastatingly, LeLe passed away on February 1st after his health took a turn for the worse.

The results of a preliminary necropsy, which concluded that LeLe had died of heart disease, still needs to be confirmed by pathology tests. Questions about whether LeLe’s heart disease was caused by long-term hunger, malnutrition and difficulty eating, due to the zoo’s substandard food and his untreated dental condition, along with extreme psychological stress due to begging for food, are still unknown and waiting to be answered.

LeLe’s neglectful death had prompted even stronger calls to action for YaYa, whose physical and psychological health and quality of life had been negatively affected by a lack of appropriate care. She had also been observed showing stereotypical behavior, due to an enclosure that lacks proper enrichment. The pandas only had access to one outdoor area that they both took turns using.

As reported by WAN, LeLe started showing increased signs of physical deterioration in mid-January. The most worrisome moment happened on January 25th when he collapsed on the ground and didn’t get up for several hours.

Despite countless emails and calls to the Memphis Zoo since January 16th, LeLe was not examined by a veterinarian, or offered more nutritious food to eat. He was also left unsupervised while keepers left for the day as early as 2:30 p.m. This raised concerns that he may not have died prematurely, had the zoo taken action and followed recommendations made by activists and the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens (CAZG).

During the press conference covering LeLe’s death, when questioned about these concerns by journalists, CEO Matt Thompson, Chief Zoological Officer Courtney Janney, and senior veterinarian Felicia Knightley, were not able to provide any records of Lele’s recent habits or health to support their claim that there was “no indication that LeLe was sick,” which contradicts the high level of care and monitoring they claimed to provide.

Instead, they claimed that LeLe “was just being silly,” “he acts dramatically,” and “he was simply lying down in that video,” raising even more questions about whether zoo staff are negligent, incompetent, or lying.

On April 8th, hundreds of people joined a moving virtual memorial hosted by In Defense of Animals and Panda Voices to honor LeLe.

“LeLe’s memorial was a powerful and moving event that united people all over the world in honoring his life,” said Brittany Michelson, Campaign Specialist for Captive Animals at In Defense of Animals. “We were amazed at how many panda supporters and animal advocates joined together to celebrate his life and seek justice for him. May LeLe’s devastating story live on as a reminder that zoos cause great suffering to animals and captivity kills.”

We look forward to YaYa receiving the much-needed care that she finally deserves in her homeland of China.

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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