MEDIA RELEASE: Memphis Zoo's Suffering Giant Pandas to Return Home to China

MEDIA RELEASE: Memphis Zoo's Suffering Giant Pandas to Return Home to China

MEMPHIS (Dec. 21, 2022)In Defense of Animals and Panda Voices are welcoming a huge victory for giant pandas YaYa, 22, and LeLe, 24, who will be sent back to China, according to a statement from the Memphis Zoo. In Defense of Animals and Panda Voices have been lobbying for the pandas’ release for nearly two years.  

“After far too many years of suffering in a grossly inappropriate zoo exhibit, YaYa and LeLe will finally get improved care at a specialized panda refuge in their homeland,” said Brittany Michelson, Captive Animals Campaigner for In Defense of Animals. “We applaud the Memphis Zoo and Chinese authorities for making the ethical decision to return the pandas to China once the loan contract ends in April 2023. We thank Billie Eilish and our many thousands of supporters worldwide for helping us encourage the zoo to do the right thing. We are delighted to celebrate this momentous victory. Animals suffer tremendously in zoos, and we hope this will prompt all zoos to put animals’ needs first and release them to accredited sanctuaries.”

YaYa and LeLe have been suffering 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.

Nearly two years ago, In Defense of Animals joined Panda Voices to campaign for the release of the Memphis Zoo pandas. Together they have written letters, published action alerts and media releases, and gained endorsements from Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., professor emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, and pop musician Billie Eilish. The organizations worked tirelessly to expose the pandas’ suffering and made repeated attempts to meet with the Memphis Zoo President to address concerns about the pandas. 

In Defense of Animals’ most recent alert published on Nov. 18 urged authorities to send the pandas back to China when the zoo’s loan contract ends in April 2023. Over 32,000 people supported the alert. A previous alert for the pandas published in the summer of 2021 gained over 88,000 supporters. In total, In Defense of Animals supporters sent over 1 million emails to decision-makers on behalf of the pandas.

“We are overwhelmed with joy at the news of YaYa and LeLe returning home to China!” said Taciana Santiago of Panda Voices. “We thank the Memphis Zoo for allowing this to happen and hope they provide the pandas the conditions they need to be fit to endure the long travel. We will continue to monitor their situation until we are sure they are in a suitable environment. We look forward to seeing them live a life of retirement and peace in China. Big thanks to In Defense of Animals and all of our supporters who stayed vigilant on this journey! King LeLe and Queen YaYa will soon be home!”


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

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In Defense of Animals is an international animal protection organization based in Marin County, California, with over 250,000 supporters and a 39-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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