Giant panda Ya Ya to return to China from US in a few days: national authority
Published: Apr 24, 2023 10:57 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

Giant panda Ya Ya, whose health has come under the spotlight since early March, will return to China in a few days from Memphis Zoo in the US, China's National Forestry and Grassland Administration was quoted as saying by the Xinhua News Agency on Monday.

Ya Ya, a female panda, was born in the Beijing Zoo in August 2000. In April 2003, as part of a cooperation program on the protection and research of giant pandas between China and the US, Ya Ya and Le Le, a male panda from the Shanghai Zoo, were flown to Memphis. 

The Memphis Zoo announced in December 2022 that it would return Le Le and Ya Ya to China, concluding 20 years of cooperative research on time. However, in February this year, Le Le unfortunately died

Ya Ya, together with Le Le's body, will board a home-bound FedEx flight to Shanghai, according to media reports. The Global Times learned from FedEx that the flight was very likely to take off by the end of April.  

Some experts from the Beijing Zoo travelled to the Memphis Zoo in March to prepare for the returning journey of Ya Ya. They took over the job to look after Ya Ya since April 8. 

Experts said they had also conducted interactions and learned some training gestures and training commands from caretakers at the Memphis Zoo in order to assist with the adjustment upon returning to China, Xinhua reported. 

The Memphis Zoo has a relatively sound management system and operation procedures, a veterinarian from the Beijing Zoo told Xinhua, noting that Ya Ya's body weight and health condition are currently stable.

Keepers at the Memphis Zoo record the time, type, and weight of food provided to Ya Ya every day, as well as the situation of her excrement, while veterinarians would conduct health examinations on Ya Ya on time. This data is provided to the Chinese side regularly, according to the veterinarian.

Ya Ya has been receiving adaptive training, for example, she is being fed with biscuits from China so that her digestive system can adapt as soon as possible after returning to China. Training has also been conducted to help her get accustomed to the shipping crate for the cross-ocean flight, according to Xinhua. 

Special care is needed for an aging panda, and zoo staffers have taken detailed notes on Ya Ya's diet and carefully check her mouth, back, and hands daily, Associate Curator Lauren Caskey at Memphis Zoo told Xinhua.

In Caskey's eyes, Ya Ya is funny and likes to be close with people. She is also very smart and adaptable. Caskey said she is confident that Ya Ya will do great when she returns to China. 

Since the beginning of 2021, there have been continuous reports about poor health conditions of Ya Ya and Le Le, with heart-wrenching photos surfacing online. After the death of Le Le, pictures of the emaciated Ya Ya have caused a stronger impact on the Chinese public leading to many netizens calling for early return of Ya Ya.

In regards to the growing concern for Ya Ya's health, Director of Animal Programs at the Memphis Zoo Courtney Janney said that "she looks a little bit different than what you would consider your stereotypic, very robust giant panda. She's always been a smaller framed, petite bear who carries her weight a little differently," according to the Memphis Zoo's website. 

Dr. Felicia Knightly, the Memphis Zoo's senior veterinarian, also said that Ya Ya looks "normal" considering her age and size. "We have monitored and evaluated Ya Ya for the last eighteen years and she is following the exact cycling and weight pattern she always does."

Ya Ya's latest progress was hailed by Chinese netizens, and the related hashtag had been viewed more than 150 million times as of Monday afternoon.  "It is the best news I have heard in April, welcome back home," one netizen said on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo.  

But some others still expressed worries over Ya Ya's condition, as she looked emaciated in the videos and photos circulating online. Some netizens also called for attention for Mei Xiang, another giant panda living in the US.

Global Times