Return of Chinese Panda Is a Relief to Her Advocates

Ya Ya is going back home from the Memphis Zoo after 20 years
By Steve Huff,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 16, 2023 3:15 PM CDT
Updated Apr 16, 2023 3:20 PM CDT
Return of Chinese Panda Is a Relief to Her Advocates
Ya Ya, a Giant Panda at the Memphis Zoo eats bamboo on Saturday, April 8, 2023, in Memphis, Tenn.   (AP Photo/Karen Pulfer Focht)

Ya Ya, a female giant panda, is returning to China after spending two decades on loan to the Memphis Zoo. This follows concerns raised by animal welfare activists and Chinese citizens, reports the New York Times. While the Memphis Zoo refutes allegations of inadequate treatment and has given explanations for Ya Ya's health issues to Chinese officials, the situation has sparked intense discussion on Chinese social media, with users scrutinizing zoo footage for evidence of mistreatment and even questioning China's long-standing use of pandas in diplomatic efforts. Groups such as Defense of Animals and Panda Voices were alarmed over videos and imagery that showed a thinning Ya Ya with patchy, possibly mangy fur, prompting the campaign to repatriate her.

Brittany Michelson, Captive Animals Campaigner for In Defense of Animals, said in a statement published after the death of Ya Ya's mate Le Le in February that his death was "heartbreaking" and he had "died prematurely of neglect and inadequate care." According to Michelson, the "Memphis Zoo blatantly failed" Le Le after "no recommended changes were made to help him or YaYa." However, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry says the panda appears to be in good health, aside from the skin issue, per Fox News. The Memphis Zoo says she may be having a routine hormonal issue that is affecting her appearance.

The zoo hosted a send-off celebration for Ya Ya, featuring speeches and performances by local Chinese organizations. Additionally, the zoo organized and recorded a lighthearted farewell in which various animals, including a tortoise, an aardvark, a sloth, a porcupine, and a penguin, paraded by Ya Ya's enclosure. A federal agency has yet to approve an exact travel date for Ya Ya's return home. The Times notes that China has been engaging in "panda diplomacy” for over 50 years, and at least 18 countries currently have pandas on loan. (More giant pandas stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.