MEDIA RELEASE: Giant Panda Collapse at Memphis Zoo Prompts Calls for Immediate Action & Permanent End to Panda Exhibit

MEDIA RELEASE: Giant Panda Collapse at Memphis Zoo Prompts Calls for Immediate Action & Permanent End to Panda Exhibit

MEMPHIS (Jan. 31, 2022) — Following a successful campaign to see Memphis Zoo’s giant pandas YaYa and LeLe returned to China, In Defense of Animals, Panda Voices, and an international network of panda advocates are highly concerned about LeLe’s health after seeing him collapse on January 25. In Defense of Animals and Panda Voices are calling on Memphis Zoo to immediately improve the quality of bamboo and panda care before LeLe and YaYa travel back to China and to commit to stopping exhibiting giant pandas.

Watch the disturbing video:

“Our joy at Memphis Zoo’s plans to return LeLe and YaYa to China has turned to serious concern for LeLe,” said Brittany Michelson, Captive Animals Campaigner for In Defense of Animals. “It’s heart-wrenching to see LeLe struggling for his life when his chance for retirement is just within reach. We urge Memphis Zoo to improve the pandas’ diet and care immediately, and have a veterinarian evaluate LeLe to ensure he and YaYa can travel back to China. Further, we call on Memphis Zoo to commit to shutting its panda exhibit for good after YaYa and LeLe depart. A new contract with China would condemn another pair of pandas to suffer for the next 10-20 years.

In December, Memphis Zoo and the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens (CAZG) announced the giant pandas would return to China in spring 2023, following a two-year campaign by In Defense of Animals and Panda Voices.

However, LeLe started showing more signs of physical deterioration in mid-January. Panda monitors watching the pandas via the zoo’s panda cam noted LeLe’s health issues escalating over several days. The most worrying moment happened on January 25 and was recorded by panda monitors. LeLe tried to eat a bamboo stalk, suddenly collapsed on the ground, and didn't stand up for several hours. He barely ate anything that day, which is another significant concern since giant pandas need to eat for around 10 to 16 hours daily. 

Due to the poor nutritional quality of bamboo given to the pandas at Memphis Zoo, they need to spend even more time eating to gain sufficient energy. Panda advocates have long been concerned about the quality and quantity of the bamboo provided to the giant pandas at Memphis Zoo. Panda monitors note the quality of the bamboo given to YaYa and LeLe recently has deteriorated further. The bamboo stalks given to the pandas look yellow and dry, and the amount provided is far below what should be given to an animal who spends more than half a day eating. Moreover, pandas are very particular about their food and only eat particular types of fresh bamboo, refusing dry or wilted leaves and discolored stalks. It is common to see LeLe and YaYa refusing to eat the bamboo given to them.

LeLe now shows very little interest in bamboo, is visibly weak, and appears emaciated. YaYa, 22, and LeLe, 24, have suffered at the Memphis Zoo since 2003. The pandas are visibly distressed and malnourished and spend their days pacing or sleeping, clearly bored in their dirty, small enclosure. YaYa has a chronic skin condition, and LeLe has significant teeth issues resulting in broken molars. He now seems to be also having severe digestive problems.

In the past, In Defense of Animals and Panda Voices made repeated attempts to meet with Memphis Zoo President Matt Thompson to address concerns about the pandas but were ignored. The organizations then worked to expose the pandas' suffering and alerted CAZG to the poor quality of food and care provided to YaYa and LeLe. The Chinese zoo organization released a statement on March 10, 2022, titled “Statement on husbandry and health condition of the giant pandas LeLe and YaYa at the Memphis Zoo.” CAZG admitted both pandas are underweight and suggests Memphis Zoo improve their diets by increasing food variety and protein sources to improve nutrition and help them gain weight. However, there is no evidence Memphis Zoo has implemented CAZG’s suggestions to improve the pandas’ diet.

Memphis Zoo must investigate LeLe’s recent health issue by providing him with a health check and acting on the recommendations. The pandas cannot wait any longer for Memphis Zoo to improve their diets per CAZG’s recommendations. This is even more important since the pandas will return to China in the following months and need to be healthy, strong, and fit to endure the long flight home.

“In face of the upcoming return of pandas YaYa and LeLe to China and the long journey ahead of them, it is even more important that the Memphis Zoo pay special attention to both pandas’ health, improving their daily diets, increasing the quantity and the quality of bamboo given to them, and offering them a variety of supplement foods as previously suggested by CAZG,” said Taciana Santiago of Panda Voices. “LeLe’s current issues have raised big concerns all over the world, and we truly hope Memphis Zoo can provide a health check on him, monitor his health condition, provide the concerned public answers, and be fully committed to the health and well-being of both pandas in preparation for their long travel in the following months.”


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Images, video & FOIA requests:




July 25, 2022
Sept. 8, 2022

Learn more: 

Dec. 21, 2022 MEDIA RELEASE: Memphis Zoo's Suffering Giant Pandas to Return Home to China
April 8, 2022 MEDIA RELEASE: Official Joint Statement From Panda Voices and In Defense of Animals on Memphis Zoo Pandas
Feb. 8, 2022 MEDIA RELEASE: Billie Eilish Wants to Save Abused Memphis Zoo Pandas
Nov. 23, 2021 MEDIA RELEASE: Abused Memphis Zoo Pandas Elicit 87,000 Calls to Send Them Home


In Defense of Animals, Brittany Michelson,, 928-420-0727
Panda Voices, Taciana Santiago, 

In Defense of Animals is an international animal protection organization based in Marin County, California, with over 250,000 supporters and a 40-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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