Giant panda YaYa arrives in China after 20 years in US zoo

Giant pandas YaYa and LeLe to return to China in 2023
Giant panda YaYa at Memphis Zoo in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S., October 18, 2020, credit: Reuters/Karen Pulfer Focht

Excitement filled the air as onlookers burst into applause when the cargo plane carrying giant panda YaYa flew overhead, landing at Shanghai Pudong International Airport on Thursday. YaYa’s return marks the end of her 20-year stay at the Memphis Zoo in the United States.

Departing from Tennessee on Wednesday, YaYa arrived in Shanghai on Thursday after a 16-hour flight. Upon landing, the giant panda was taken to a closed quarantine area, where she will be monitored and cared for by veterinarians and staff.

Before relocating to Beijing Zoo, YaYa will spend approximately a month in quarantine at the Shanghai Zoo. Eager visitors had already arrived at the zoo in anticipation of her arrival.

In 2003, at age three, YaYa arrived at the Memphis Zoo along with LeLe, a male giant panda. The pair were part of a 20-year lease arrangement between the zoo and China. LeLe died at Memphis Zoo in February at the age of 24. 

Animal welfare organizations have widely criticized the giant pandas’ living conditions at the zoo, as the animals experienced malnutrition and insufficient stimulation in their enclosure.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said during a press briefing a few days ago that China will stay committed to sending giant pandas to other countries, including the US, as part of their “panda diplomacy,” even though more and more citizens have expressed concerns about the practice.

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