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Updated: Apr 9, 2022


Yesterday, April 6th, 2022, Memphis Zoo released a joint statement with the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens (CAZG) stressing their partnership, the excellent care given to pandas YaYa and LeLe at Memphis Zoo, and the close monitoring of the health of both animals. The text is an English version of a statement in Chinese launched on CAZG’s website on March 22nd, 2022, titled Joint statement on Giant Panda Cooperation project between Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens and Memphis Zoo of USA (hereinafter referred to as "Cooperation Statement”).

However, yesterday’s statement published by Memphis Zoo failed to mention important and crucial information that was presented in other CAZG’s statement released on their website less than a month ago, on March 10th, 2022, titled Statement on husbandry and health condition of the giant pandas LeLe and YaYa at Memphis Zoo (hereinafter referred to as “Panda condition report”)

The earlier statement, “Panda condition report”, is apparently more directed to the hundreds of thousands of Chinese, U.S., and international citizens, worried about the health and well-being of YaYa and LeLe. It also reinforces the partnership between CAZG and Memphis Zoo but at the same time raises important concerns related to the pandas’ health. The text states that after medical examinations conducted in 2021 and January 2022, it was concluded that both pandas are underweight, especially YaYa; YaYa also has fur loss due to chronic Demodex mites; and the male LeLe has several broken molars. We stress that all of these conditions were already raised as causes for concern by Panda Voices and In Defense of Animals over the last several months. Nothing was mentioned about the obvious signs of stereotypical behavior both pandas show and the lack of enrichment in their enclosures.

Giant pandas YaYa and LeLe at Memphis Zoo on March 24th, 2022, and March 25th, 2022, respectively.

Given that the pandas are underweight and in poor health condition, the “Panda condition report”, also provides suggestions that Memphis Zoo should follow to guarantee both pandas’ well-being such as 1) increase the daily protein sources in the pandas’ daily diet, including the addition of water-soluble essential amino acid powders and increasing the variety of biscuits, while maintaining the proper proportions of bamboo; 2) offer both pandas bamboo shoots every day, to help them gain nutrition and weight; 3) try another course of anti-parasitic treatment for YaYa to solve her skin problems and relieve her discomfort; 4) closely monitor the pandas’ weight, appetite, and urine/fecal excretion. Unfortunately, Memphis Zoo neither mentioned the pandas’ health issues nor the improvement suggestions raised by the CAZG in their recent release. Memphis Zoo must be accountable and inform all the concerned public if the suggested diets and medical treatment have been put into effect.

Summary of the last statements published by Beijing Zoo, CAZG, and Memphis Zoo.

Two recent statements on the CAZG webpage, regarding the panda loan cooperation with Memphis Zoo and the pandas’ living conditions respectively.

The above evidence shows that Memphis Zoo was not transparent and clear to the public by leaving out some important facts raised in the earlier statement released on March 10. In view of this, Panda Voices and In Defense of Animals have many questions about Memphis Zoo’s recent release: 1) Why did Memphis Zoo leave out all of the above important facts in their statement yesterday and simply ignored CAZG’s “Panda condition report” published on March 10th, 2022, only mentioning the "Cooperation Statement” issued on March 22nd? 2) What has been done to address the pandas’ underweight, malnourishment, and parasite infection, highlighted in CAZG’s “Panda condition report”? 3) Is Memphis Zoo following all of those suggestions presented by the Chinese authorities, or addressing the pandas’ severe stereotypical behavior caused by extreme mental stress? 4) Why does Memphis Zoo keep hiding these facts instead of confronting the issue and having an honest dialogue with panda fans around the world and animal rights organizations like ours?

We emphasize that, once again, we contacted the zoo on March 23rd, asking for an online meeting, so we could better discuss the situation of both pandas, present our concerns, and have a fruitful dialogue aiming only at the welfare of the pandas, but we did not receive any response from the zoo. We also want to mention that institutions like AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) in the US and CAZG in China represent the interests of the zoo industry and will often support each other to cover up the harsh facts of this business. On the contrary, the interests of In Defense of Animals and Panda Voices solely focus on the animals’ welfare and the belief that animals in captivity should not be exploited for money, but be treated with proper diets, geriatric care, and live full, happy and healthy lives.

Furthermore, thousands of panda lovers who are familiar with the situation of captive pandas worldwide and local volunteers in Memphis, who were touched by the situation, also contributed to our cause. Over 110,000 people across the world have now signed a petition and In Defense of Animals' alert to express their deep concern for the pandas’ welfare.

Local residents' comments on the status of the pandas at Memphis Zoo published on social media.

The zoological organizations’ glorification of the zoo industry and Memphis Zoo's attempts to sidestep public accountability will not satisfy hundreds of thousands of concerned citizens who want to see the pandas’ medical records and see the senior pandas having nutritiously balanced diets and proper health care in their hometown. Memphis Zoo has failed to answer Freedom of Information Act requests for all medical reports for giant pandas YaYa and LeLe, in addition to all medical, veterinary, and necropsy reports for seven Grant's gazelles who died last winter, and African elephant Tyrzana who was euthanized in September 2020. We are determined to end all suffering and preventable deaths at Memphis Zoo and get justice for animals who have died there. We urge members of the public to keep up the pressure by signing and sharing our petitions. The Memphis Zoo must do the best for the pandas by returning YaYa and LeLe home to China, where they will have abundant bamboo shoots, the best nutritious food for pandas, enrichment, and medical care from the best experts. We sincerely invite all of you to watch the short videos attached below and think about what’s truly best for the pandas YaYa and LeLe and their well-being.

1. Calgary Zoo: Farewell to Da Mao & Er Shun

2. Beijing Zoo: 32 years as a panda keeper: I guard their lives with my life

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