China welcomes Ya Ya the panda home after 20 years abroad

·2 min read

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — 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.

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 was born Aug. 3, 2000, in Beijing. She lived at the Memphis Zoo along with Le Le, a male panda who was born July 18, 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.

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 discolored 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.

Huizhong Wu, The Associated Press