MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Memphis Zoo has announced giant pandas Ya Ya and Le Le are set to return to China after calling Memphis home for 20 years.
On Wednesday, the Memphis Zoo announced the end of a partnership with the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens on their Facebook. Ya Ya and Le Le have been a part of the Memphis community since 2003.
Only two other zoos in the United States have giant pandas.
The Zoo made the following statement about the pandas:
During their time at Memphis Zoo, Ya Ya and Le Le helped pioneer research and conservation projects to teach others about the importance of their species. It has been a privilege to host these incredible bears at Memphis Zoo for the past two decades and the impact their culture has had on the City of Memphis will forever be remembered.Memphis Zoo
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said he’s hopeful Memphis will foster another panda partnership.
“We are in conversation with Chinese officials and I hope that we can get two pandas and in future,” Strickland said.
“I think the thought was that they needed to go back to China for their last years,” he said.
Ya Ya and Le Le’s journey that started back in the 1990s, when closed-door discussions to host them began. In 2001, the city broke ground on a $16 million China exhibit.
Soon after, China would let Memphis lease Ya Ya and Le Le. It was a huge deal for the city, because China owns every giant panda and they’re selectively loaned.
In 2003, FedEx picked them up on a jet they named the Panda Express, starting their memorable stay in the Mid-South.
People have come near and far to see them, creating substantial economic impacts. They also helped with fundamental research, including studies on bamboo nutrients.
But their stay didn’t come without some controversy. Some animal activists claimed they were mistreated and neglected, forcing zoo staff to repeatedly assure the public the pandas were healthy and well-maintained.
The zoo hasn’t said when the pair will head back to China.
Strickland said the Memphis Zoo’s China exhibit will remain and is full of other animals and birds from that country that you’ll still be able to see.