Ya Ya: The giant panda returning to China from the US after 20 years

Ya Ya, a giant panda at the Memphis Zoo, eats bamboo, in Memphis, Tennessee. AP

Taipei: Ya Ya the giant panda landed Thursday in Shanghai after departing from the Memphis Zoo in Tennessee, where she spent the past 20 years on loan.

The popular panda’s trip was closely followed online.

People shared screenshots tracking Ya Ya’s flight path into Shanghai. “Finally back at home!” cheered one user in response to the news. Others asked for a live broadcast of the arrival, which was reported by Chinese state media and claimed four of the top 10 trending topics on the social media platform Weibo.

An image from Chinese broadcaster Phoenix News was particularly popular among Chinese social media users. It showed Ya Ya relieving herself before the trip and leaving the poop as a present for the zoo.

Also read: Panda Politics: Why are US zoos sending back the bears to China?

The zoo held a farewell party for Ya Ya earlier in April and said it would miss the panda. Her departure marks the end of a 20-year loan agreement with the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens.

Ya Ya The giant panda returning to China from the US after 20 years
Workers wearing protective suits check on giant panda Ya Ya, sitting inside a container after arriving at Shanghai Pudong International Airport in Shanghai. AP

Ya Ya was born 3 August, 2000, in Beijing. She lived at the Memphis Zoo along with Le Le, a male panda who was born 18 July, 1998. Le Le died in February.

The life expectancy of a giant panda in the wild is about 15 years, but in captivity they have lived to be as old as 38.

Also read: China marks 50 years of ‘panda diplomacy’ with US: How Beijing used animal to push agenda

Earlier in 2023, after the 20-year loan agreement ended without renewal, allegations of neglect and abuse circulated on Chinese social media alongside pictures of Ya Ya with her fur discoloured and patchy.

The Memphis Zoo said in a statement the panda’s quality of life was not affected by her fur condition, noting that they reported monthly to the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens about the panda’s health. According to the statement, “Ya Ya also lives with a chronic skin and fur condition which is inherently related to her immune system and directly impacted by hormonal fluctuations.”

A veterinarian accompanied Ya Ya to care for her health needs on the way to Shanghai, the zoo said.

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