MEDIA RELEASE: Billie Eilish Wants to Save Abused Memphis Zoo Pandas

MEDIA RELEASE: Billie Eilish Wants to Save Abused Memphis Zoo Pandas

MEMPHIS (Feb. 7, 2022)Billie Eilish has teamed up with international animal protection nonprofit In Defense of Animals and Panda Voices to call for the immediate retirement of giant pandas YaYa and LeLe. Over 110,000 people across the world have now signed a petition and In Defense of Animals' alert to express their deep concern for the pandas’ welfare. 

See Billie’s tweet:

Watch the video on Twitter or In Defense of Animals’ website.

“We are thrilled that Billie Eilish has joined our campaign to free YaYa and LeLe from horrendous suffering at Memphis Zoo,” said Fleur Dawes, Communications Director for In Defense of Animals. “Anyone can see these pandas are in crisis and in urgent need of rescue. We hope Billie’s call on Memphis Zoo CEO Jim Dean will encourage him to stop the torture of YaYa and LeLe and send them back to China. These pandas deserve to have suitable food and medical care, and retire to a life that resembles the wild as closely as possible.”

Shipped from Beijing, China, in 2003, giant pandas YaYa and LeLe have been held captive at Memphis Zoo for 18 years. They are mistreated and visibly distressed, suffering from insufficient bamboo, malnourishment, excessive caging time (10+ hours), skin mite disease, dental problems and zoochosis — a distressed state of mental health shown through abnormal, repetitive “stereotypical” behaviors. 

YaYa is 21 years old, still under the average life expectancy of giant pandas in Chinese captivity, which is between 25 and 35 years old, with the record age being 38 years old. She has suffered four miscarriages after invasive artificial insemination procedures, has an ongoing skin mite infestation, and is extremely underweight. She shows severe signs of captivity-caused mental distress through repetitive zoochotic behavior, which can be witnessed by zoo visitors and through webcams.

YaYa’s miscarriages were reported in the media in 2007, 2010, and 2012. By 2012, YaYa had already had three miscarriages, yet another artificial insemination was performed on her again in the same year.

In August, Beijing Zoo released an official response to address concerns about YaYa raised by Chinese panda fans. Beijing Zoo and the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens (CAZG) recommended Memphis Zoo address basic panda care such as feeding her bamboo shoots throughout the year and treating her Demodex mites. Memphis Zoo has admitted that it lacks bamboo to feed the pandas by requesting public donations to source this basic food need. Memphis Zoo is yet to mention YaYa’s skin parasite condition, which she has clearly been suffering from for at least 7 years.

LeLe is 23 years old and also suffers from stereotypical behaviors and dental problems. It is common to see him sitting on a rock, playing with his tongue — a typical sign of mental distress caused, among other issues, by the lack of enrichment in their enclosures.

Despite this unprecedented level of public concern and their massive campaign that now gained the support of the famous singer Billie Eilish, Memphis Zoo has so far refused to engage with the concerns raised by panda lovers across the world or even have a dialogue with them.

The vegan singer and songwriter has been using her influence to raise awareness about animal cruelty and suffering, to defend animal rights, as the ban of fur in the fashion industry, and to encourage her followers to consider a plant-based diet. Now the miserable conditions of the pandas at Memphis Zoo and their state of lethargy with disturbing, repetitive behavior, and sick and skinny appearance has touched Eilish and led her to encourage her fans to support the campaign to save the pandas.

Vera Yevseeva, a representative of Panda Voices, said, “We are delighted that Billie Eilish is joining our fight. Memphis Zoo may keep blocking us on social media, posting updates with old videos and photos, and denying all the problems, but the situation of their pandas is so appalling that people are starting to question their attitude and realize the serious issues animals face in their enclosures. No other ‘healthy’ captive pandas worldwide are so visibly stressed and malnourished. They are in extremely poor condition, and urgent measures are needed. The support of Billie also shows that the concern with both pandas has increased significantly in the recent months, not only inside the USA, but also in other countries. Returning both pandas to China right away is the responsible thing to do for the pandas' health, and as compensation for the almost two decades of their lives they spent imprisoned in the zoo.” 

Panda Voices is an organization created by an international group of panda fans from Asia, Europe & the Americas, brought together by concerns over pandas YaYa & LeLe. The organization is committed to returning YaYa and LeLe to China, and speaking out for pandas and all animals suffering in captivity.

Tom Clemenson, another representative of Panda Voices added, “In addition to being a renowned and award-winning singer, Billie Eilish has been a strong voice advocating for animal welfare, so we receive her support with great joy. We tried to contact Memphis Zoo offering help and donations for the pandas, but to date they have yet to respond to us. Instead, they started blocking all panda fans who leave comments about the pandas or ask questions about YaYa and LeLe on their social media. We question if Memphis Zoo is putting barriers between the animals and the community. Being completely closed to dialogue is not the best way to deal with this issue. Is the zoo really acting in the animals' best interest at all? We hope that the influence and the reach of Billie’s voice can push Memphis Zoo to improve the panda’s quality of life and to return them to China, where they will live in a better environment for giant pandas and receive proper care.”

According to the organization, Chinese institutions are also facing difficulties in contacting the Memphis Zoo. Yevseeva added, “Weekly since March, a member of Panda Voices has contacted Beijing Zoo and Shanghai Zoo, the owners of YaYa and LeLe, respectively. Both zoos complained that they rarely get a positive response from the Memphis Zoo.”

Marc Bekoff Ph.D., professor emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, has also spoken out regarding this situation: “The footage and material provided by In Defense of Animals and Panda Voices clearly shows there is serious cause for concern for the captive pandas at Memphis Zoo. I have previously highlighted the extreme stress caused to pandas born and raised in captivity, but the extremely poor physical and mental condition of YaYa and LeLe brings this to a new level of urgency. It's time for Memphis Zoo to send these poor pandas home where at least some of their basic needs can be met.”

Memphis Zoo has also failed to answer Freedom of Information Act requests for all medical reports for giant pandas YaYa and LeLe, in addition to all medical, veterinary and necropsy reports for seven Grant's gazelles who died last winter, and African elephant Tyrzana who was euthanized in September 2020. Memphis Zoo is ranked #8 on In Defense of Animals’ list of the 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants in North America.

“Memphis Zoo cannot sidestep public accountability forever,” added Dawes. “We are determined to end all suffering and preventable deaths at Memphis Zoo, and get justice for animals who have died there. We urge members of the public to keep up the pressure by signing and sharing our petitions.”

Members of the public can take action for YaYa and LeLe here:

### NOTES ###

Images & video of panda suffering (free for media use with credit per filename):

FOIA requests:



Fleur Dawes, In Defense of Animals,, (415) 879-6879

Tom Clemenson, Panda Voices,,, (646) 577-5881

Vera Yevseeva, Panda Voices,, +380 95 270-08-28


In Defense of Animals is an international animal protection organization based in California with over 250,000 supporters and a 38-year history of fighting for animals, people, and the environment through education and campaigns as well as hands-on rescue facilities in India, South Korea, and rural Mississippi.

Panda Voices is an organization created in early 2021 by an international group of panda fans from Asia, Europe & The Americas, brought together by concerns over pandas YaYa & LeLe, which began years before. The organization is committed to give voice to the voiceless and promote the humane treatment of animals in captivity through advocacy and services.

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