Panda Voices warned Memphis Zoo of panda LeLe’s health

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Giant panda Lele dies at Memphis zoo, months before his return to China
Giant panda LeLe, Memphis Zoo, November 1, 2022, credit: Reuters/Karen Pulfer Focht

The death of giant panda LeLe at Memphis Zoo in the United States was caused by heart disease, according to an autopsy by American and Chinese veterinarians. LeLe died on February 1 at the zoo, two months before he was going to return home (China).

Animal rights group Panda Voices has been monitoring pandas LeLe and Yaya -the other panda at the zoo- on Memphis Zoo’s Panda Cam. They noticed LeLe was behaving strangely and tried to warn the zoo many times that he was ill, Sarah Cen and Tom Clemenson told The Animal Reader. They blame the zoo for LeLe’s death. 

In 2003, the male giant panda LeLe was shipped with the female YaYa from China to Memphis Zoo. Their living conditions received much criticism over the years. 

Together with In Defense of Animals (IDA), Panda Voices have been campaigning for the giant pandas’ release for nearly three years; the animals have very little space, not enough food (bamboo), are mistreated, have skin mite disease and dental problems, and are visibly distressed. They are now fighting for YaYa’s safe return to China.

Memphis Zoo has always rejected accusations from animal welfare groups. The Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens said Beijing Zoo was preparing for YaYa to return home on April 7. 

Panda doplomacy
Pandas YaYa and LeLe were part of China’s panda diplomacy -a practice of using giant pandas as a diplomatic gift from China to other countries. The panda is a symbol of peace, friendship, and good wishes, and gifting pandas to other countries is seen as a gesture of goodwill.

In addition to diplomatic gifts, China also loans pandas to foreign countries for breeding and research purposes. YaYa was artificially inseminated four times at Memphis Zoo and all resulted in miscarriages -in 20072010, and 2012.

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