Viral video of ‘skinny’ giant panda in a US zoo ignites calls for its return to China
Published: Jan 21, 2021 05:43 PM
A netizen posted a video clip on Sina Weibo on Wednesday, saying that one of the giant pandas from China at the Memphis Zoo in Tennesseeappears to be too thin. In response to concern shown by netizens, a Chinese expert said that it was hard to determine the panda's health just from a video clip. 

In 2003, two pandas - Le Le and Ya Ya - arrived at the Memphis Zoo, according to the zoo's blog. 

Screenshot from Sina Weibo

In the video post, the netizen noted that Ya Ya appears to be "pitifully weak," and went on to wonder if the zoo has a sufficient supply of fresh bamboo shoots to feed the pandas.

As the video went viral, it caused widespread concern among Chinese netizens, who called for the pandas to be transferred home. 

The video also questioned whether the giant pandas' living area was being properly maintained, whether they were being fed according to Chinese standards and if the zookeepers interacted with them. 

In response to this, staff at the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens (CAZG) stated that at 22 years old, Ya Ya is considered an elderly panda and that additionally she has been suffering from a skin disease and thus is not in good health. 

Screenshot from Sina Weibo

Diao Kunpeng, a panda expert and director of Beijing Qingye Ecology, agreed with the CAZG assessment, telling the Global Times on Thursday that the odd color of Ya Ya's fur in the viral video is due to her advanced age.

"Whether she has other health problems or not can be confirmed by a physical examination. We cannot draw a conclusion through a video alone," said Diao.

Screenshot from Sina Weibo

CAZG, a national industry association composed of social organizations and related units that care for and support the cause of zoos in national zoos and aquariums, said it was in communication with the Memphis Zoo and had confirmed that no issues exist concerning living conditions, including food supplies and the pandas' living space. 

The Memphis Zoo is one of the only three zoos in the US with giant pandas. 

According to a Memphis Business Journal report from May 2019, an extension signed in 2013 allows the pandas to stay at the zoo until 2023.

Memphis Zoo is currently closed to the public, but according to a report from WMC news network, the zoo is scheduled to reopen with new protocols on Saturday. 

Between the two pandas, Le Le appears to be in better health. On January 12, the zoo posted a short video of the male panda enjoying a snowy day while last time it blogged about Ya Ya was in May 2014.

On Tuesday, the zoo posted another video of its bamboo crew harvesting bamboo shoots for Le Le and Ya Ya's meals. 

In one of the Memphis Zoo's blog posts, Beth Roberts, senior conservation biologist at the zoo, said that she has been sending samples containing Le Le's genetics to China. These samples are collected every few years during breeding seasons and frozen in liquid nitrogen at -196 C, where they can remain stored for up to 10 years. 

Their frozen zoo bank currently has Le Le's samples from 2007 through 2019. Collection efforts from Le Le are a team process consisting of collaboration among three Memphis Zoo departments and visiting scientists from China, the blog said. 

Screenshot from Sina Weibo

As of press time, neither the Memphis Zoo nor Roberts had responded to requests for comments. 

This is not the first time that Chinese netizens have shown concern for pandas in US zoos. Another giant panda, Mei Xiang, living in the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington DC is also at an advanced age, which has also sparked Chinese netizens' concern and calls for her return. 

Hashtags such as "save Mei Xiang" and accusations that the "Washington zoo is not taking good care of Mei Xiang" were hot topics on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo in late November 2020 after some netizens posted videos that they claim show Mei Xiang was suffering from stomachaches and convulsions after eating ice on October 19.