MEDIA RELEASE: Pressure Mounts to Return Suffering Pandas to China

MEDIA RELEASE: Pressure Mounts to Return Suffering Pandas to China

MEMPHIS (Dec. 6, 2022) — Concerned citizens have written a million emails on behalf of the Memphis Zoo pandas YaYa and LeLe. The latest urge authorities to send the giant pandas back to China when the zoo’s loan contract ends in April 2023. 

An In Defense of Animals new alert calling for the pandas’ retirement was published on Nov. 18 and already has more than 25,000 supporters. A previous alert for the pandas published in summer 2021 gained over 88,000 supporters. Together, they have generated over 1 million emails to decision-makers on behalf of the pandas.

In Defense of Animals, Panda Voices, Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., professor emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, and several other animal advocacy organizations have expressed concern about the pandas’ welfare. Growing awareness about their condition on social media has drawn the attention of panda fans and animal advocates around the world, including famed pop musician Billie Eilish who tweeted for YaYa and LeLe, as well as zoo visitors who have witnessed their situation first-hand.


Billie Eilish retweeted this video showing the shocking conditions of YaYa and LeLe at Memphis Zoo. Photo: Twitter/Billie Eilish 


22-year-old YaYa and 24-year-old LeLe are among the youngest pandas in captivity in the U.S., yet they look considerably older than other captive pandas who are over 30 years of age. The pandas are distressed and malnourished and spend their days pacing or sleeping, clearly bored in their dirty, small enclosures. YaYa has a chronic skin condition and LeLe has significant teeth issues resulting in broken molars. 

In Defense of Animals and Panda Voices continue to expose the pandas' suffering and have made repeated attempts to meet with Memphis Zoo President Matt Thompson to address concerns about the pandas. In Defense of Animals sent a letter in July about the pandas’ health and well-being to Thompson, followed by a second letter in September. There has been no response to either of the letters. 

Freedom of Information Act requests for medical records for the pandas, seven Grant’s gazelles, and African elephant Tyranza, were sent to the zoo in June 2021 but have also gone unanswered.

“It is unacceptable that the Memphis Zoo continues to refuse to release information or have a conversation with us about the health and wellbeing of giant pandas YaYa and LeLe,” said Brittany Michelson, Captive Animals Campaigner for In Defense of Animals. “If the zoo truly cares about the pandas, they would agree to meet with us to address our questions and concerns. There are many thousands of people across the globe who are deeply worried about the poor health of the pandas, and yet the zoo fails to acknowledge these concerns.”

“After far too many years of suffering in an inappropriate zoo exhibit, it is time for YaYa and LeLe to finally get the care they truly deserve at a specialized panda refuge in their homeland,” added Michelson. “We are calling on the Memphis Zoo and Chinese authorities to commit to returning the pandas to China once the loan contract ends in April 2023. It is also of utmost importance that the zoo makes immediate improvements to the pandas’ diet and care so that they will be fit to travel overseas.” 


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Images, video & FOIA requests:




July 25, 2022
Sept. 8, 2022

Learn more: 

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 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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