UPDATE: The plane carrying Ya Ya the panda landed in Shanghai at 4:23 a.m. Memphis time. She touched down at the Pudong International Airport.


MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Ya Ya, Memphis Zoo’s last remaining giant panda, started her journey back to China on Wednesday.

The Memphis Zoo said the panda is accompanied by their senior veterinarian and Chief Zoological Officer, who will manage any medical concerns or needs.

The giant panda’s stay has not been without controversy. Over the years, some animal activists claimed the pandas were mistreated and neglected, forcing zoo staff to assure the public the pandas were healthy and well-maintained repeatedly. 

Zoo President and CEO Matt Thompson said Ya Ya is going home healthy.

Ya Ya was born on August 3, 2000, in Beijing. She was joined in Memphis under the loan agreement by Le Le, a male panda who was born July 18, 1998, and died in February ahead of the pair’s planned return to China.

Thompson said it is possible that pandas could return to the Memphis Zoo in the future.

The Memphis Zoo said they would not provide photos or videos from the departure to adhere to animal care staff requests.