Chinese netizens cheer as US lease of giant panda Ya Ya expires, soon to return home
Published: Apr 09, 2023 11:05 PM
Giant panda Ya Ya is at the the Memphis Zoo in the US on February 14. Photo: IC

Giant panda Ya Ya is at the the Memphis Zoo in the US on February 14. Photo: IC


Cheers among Chinese netizens celebrating that giant panda Ya Ya saw her 20-year lease expire and will soon come back home are paralleled by voices opposing the renewal of the partnership with the Memphis Zoo in the US, which has been widely questioned of having mistreated Ya Ya and her deceased male partner Le Le.

A Ya Ya-related topic was again trending on major Chinese social media platform Sina Weibo on Sunday with its hashtag saying "Ya Ya has been officially handed over to Chinese side [Chinese caretakers]" after the lease of the female giant panda expired on Friday. The topic had been viewed 250 million times as of press time.

On Saturday (local time), the Memphis Zoo held a farewell party for Ya Ya to wish her a safe trip home at the end of this month and to celebrate the 20-year partnership between the zoo and the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens, according to the zoo on Twitter.

On the same day, the zoo's CEO and President Matt Thompson told media that staff members of the zoo and Chinese caretakers would jointly take care of Ya Ya until she returned to China in late April.

A team of veterinarians and keepers was sent by the Beijing Zoo to the US to assess Ya Ya's breeding condition and work with the Memphis Zoo to arrange the necessary breeding and nursing work for the giant panda, read a notice released by the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens on March 8. The relevant departments from China and the US have been actively discussing measures to speed up procedures for Ya Ya to return home, in an effort to bring her back home soon, and the Chinese side has already completed the approval procedures.

Thompson noted that the zoo's contract with the Chinese association had expired and they are discussing follow-up cooperation, US media reported. Thompson said it is possible that pandas could return to the zoo in the future, according to media reports.

Ya Ya will be quarantined in Shanghai for about a month after her return from the US and will reside in Beijing Zoo when her condition is qualified. Beijing Zoo has already made preparations to welcome Ya Ya home in terms of breeding grounds, feeding plans, medical care and feed supplies.

Many netizens flocked to Ya Ya's hashtag to voice their support for the giant panda and expectations for her approaching return. At the same time, they expressed their strong opposition to any new cooperation with any US zoo.

 "Fancy them [the zoo] treating the pandas to this extent and then having the nerve to talk about having our other giant pandas," read a typical comment on Weibo.

Instead of sending two live pandas home, the  Memphis Zoo is only sending one. The other giant panda, Le Le, had lived at the zoo and died in February due to heart diseases. After Le Le died, Ya Ya's health condition stroked the hearts of many Chinese netizens.

Since Chinese caretakers have arrived the zoo, recent livestreaming videos of Ya Ya, who was bony, showed that the senior panda is seemingly putting on some flesh with fresh young bamboos and bamboo shoots available to her. Ya Ya has long suffered from a skin disease due to parasite infections, which caused her to shed much of her fur.

Despite wide speculations over whether the pandas were mistreated in the zoo, the Memphis Zoo has repeatedly said they were in excellent health considering their age and the Chinese association has also issued a statement saying that the pandas were receiving "the highest quality of care."

Zhao Songsheng, manager of YueWeiLai, a Chengdu-based NGO to protect giant pandas, told the Global Times on Sunday that the Chinese association is more likely to continue the cooperation on giant panda protection with the US side. At the same time, the expert believes that more details and higher requirements on ensuring the mental and physical health of giant pandas could be added.

Zhao said that the Chinese side should launch a blacklist against certain foreign zoos and animal institutions, which had stains in their history of keeping Chinese giant pandas.

In recent years, individual US zoos have drawn the ire of activists who believed the pandas were being mistreated and neglected. 

The safety and health of Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, a pair of giant pandas living in the US National Zoo in Washington, have also raised concerns, with videos posted by netizens showing the two pandas are in poor condition with suspected health problems.

Many netizens have called for high attention to the pair of pandas after Ya Ya returns home.