Ya Ya, a giant panda who has lived at the Memphis Zoo since 2003, will return to China by the end of this month amid allegations of abuse and neglect by the zoo.
The move comes after months of criticism by animal rights groups and panda fans who have accused the zoo of providing inadequate care to Ya Ya and her male partner Le Le, who died in February. Videos circulating on social media show Ya Ya suffering from distress, skin disease and dental problems.
Animal rights groups say Ya Ya has experienced excessive cage times, malnutrition and lack of proper veterinary care. They have launched petitions and campaigns to urge the zoo to end Ya Ya’s stay in the US and send her back to China.
The Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens (CAZG) is reportedly working to facilitate an early return of Ya Ya to China after seeing the online outcry concerning the panda’s situation in the US zoo. China requires foreign zoos that host pandas on loan to allow older animals to spend their final days on Chinese soil.
Ya Ya was born on 3 August 2000 in Beijing. She was joined in Memphis under the loan agreement by Le Le, who was born on 18 July 1998 but died at the age of 25. The zoo said Le Le died unexpectedly in his sleep and that it was awaiting autopsy results.
Ya Ya is expected to head back to China at the end of month, according to zoo spokesperson Rebecca Winchester. She said the zoo was working closely with Chinese officials to ensure a smooth and safe transition for Ya Ya.
Pandas are seen as a symbol of peace and friendship, so the sudden death of Le Le and the continued lack of care for Ya Ya have shocked many animal lovers. Pandas are considered a vulnerable species, with much of their natural habitat in southwest China.