MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Memphis Zoo announced Friday that one of its giant pandas, Le Le, has died.
Le Le was born July 18, 1998, and was 25 years old at the time of his passing. He came to Memphis Zoo in 2003.
“He was easy going, playful and beautiful representation of his species,” said Matt Thompson, CEO of the Memphis Zoo. “It’s never easy to lose any of animals. As many animals as we have, we go through this on regular basis, but Le Le and Ya Ya are special for many reasons.”
Le Le was one-half of an iconic duo with Ya Ya that instantly stole the hearts of Memphians and beyond. He was found dead Feb. 1, a few months ahead his scheduled departure from the Memphis Zoo.
The 25-year-old panda and his partner were set to return to China this spring, after a loan agreement ended with the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens. Prior to his death, Memphis zoo officials claim he was good health.
“We reviewed video footage for days leading up to this and we saw no indication that would lead us to believe that there was anything wrong with Le Le,” Thompson said.
However, one day before Le Le died, we reached out to the zoo asking for an update on the panda’s health.
They told us, “Le Le has spent more time sleeping and less time eating over the last couple of days, a behavior we usually associate with stomach discomfort. This is seen regularly in Giant pandas, as they transition to eating different parts of the bamboo plant seasonally.”
In Defense of Animals, an advocacy group, is questioning the panda’s health after watching the Zoo’s live stream.
“On the 25th of January they saw where Le Le was reaching for a Bamboo stock and just fell over. He just collapsed and he was on the ground for a few hours,” said Brittany Michelson, with In Defense of Animals.
Zoo officials are refuting the claim and say Le Le was just being playful. The zoo says a cause of death has yet to be determined, as a medical investigation is pending.
Meanwhile, the Memphis Zoo is looking ahead to the future.
“We would love very much to have a new young pair of giant pandas here in Memphis and we are going to hope that can happen,” Thompson said.
Michelson hoped the zoo would end its panda exhibit for good.
“I just hope that they do the right thing, that they make the ethical decision going forward to prevent more pandas from coming in,” she said.
The zoo released a statement saying:
Le Le’s name translates to “happy happy,” and his name reflected his personality. Le Le was a happy bear that enjoyed apples, engaging with enrichment and relaxing while covering himself with freshly shredded bamboo. He had an easy-going personality and was a favorite of all who met and worked with him over the years.
Le Le was adored by his keepers, all of the staff at the Memphis Zoo as well as the City of Memphis. Over the last twenty years Le Le has delighted millions of guests, served as an exemplary ambassador for his species and remains a shining symbol of conservation partnership with the People’s Republic of China.