giant panda at memphis zoo

Netizens Furious Over Alleged Mistreatment of Panda at Memphis Zoo

People are calling for the Memphis Zoo to return giant panda Ya Ya to China following allegations that the animal is being neglected at the facility

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7:51 AM HKT, Fri February 24, 2023 1 mins read

Chinese netizens are up in arms over the plight of Ya Ya, a 22-year-old giant panda who has been on loan to the Memphis Zoo in the U.S. since 2003.

Ya Ya is scheduled to return to China when her loan contract ends in April. However, netizens are calling for an earlier return, provoked by the death of the Memphis Zoo’s other panda, Le Le, earlier this month and by photos and videos of Ya Ya’s condition.

International animal advocacy groups like In Defense of Animals have been campaigning for the pandas’ return for over two years. Their initiative was supported by famous American singer Billie Eilish and nearly 100,000 petitioners on

billie eilish retweeting a post in support of returning giant pandas from the memphis zoo back to china

Billie Eilish retweeted In Defense of Animal’s campaign to return Le Le and Ya Ya. Image via Twitter

Ya Ya and Le Le’s return was announced in December. However, according to Reuters, the Memphis Zoo said the animals’ departure had nothing to do with the animal advocates’ campaign.

The end of the contract came too late for 24-year-old Le Le, who died on February 1.

One netizen wrote on the Chinese microblogging platform Weibo, “Le Le was so lively, and he didn’t make it back, hurry up and bring Ya Ya home.”

Ya Ya the panda very skinny and dirty

Recent images of Ya Ya in her enclosure at the Memphis Zoo. Image via WeChat

Though Memphis Zoo denies accusations of neglect, World Animal News wrote last year, “The pandas are distressed and malnourished and spend their days pacing or sleeping, clearly bored in their dirty, small enclosures. Ya Ya has a chronic skin condition, and Le Le has significant teeth issues resulting in broken molars.”

Most concerning of all for many netizens is how skinny Ya Ya is.

“I have never seen such a skinny giant panda. It would not look like this even if it were in the wild. It is so pitiful; do not loan out any more [pandas] in the future,” commented one Weibo user.

Giant pandas — considered one of China’s national treasures — live about 15-20 years in the wild but can live past 30 in captivity.

ya ya the panda eating bamboo

Ya Ya eating bamboo. Image via Weibo

Panda diplomacy is the name for China’s policy of leasing out the cuddly-looking creatures as a political and economic tool.

In its modern form, panda loans date back to 1941, when the wife of China’s then-leader Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek gave the Bronx Zoo two cubs. The first recorded example, though, was way back in 685 CE, when Empress Wu Zetian gifted a pair of bears to Japan.

In recent decades, pandas are typically leased to foreign zoos for 10-year periods. In the past, trade tensions between China and the U.S. have called continued loans into question; Memphis Zoo’s treatment of Ya Ya may do the same.

Cover image via Depositphotos

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