Ya Ya, The Giant Panda, Goes Back To China After Spending Two Decades In the United States

By: Lauren Wurth | Last updated: Oct 24, 2023

Imagine spending two decades away from your home, immersed in a foreign land thousands of miles away. That’s exactly the story of Ya Ya, the beloved giant panda.

After a remarkable 20-year stay in the United States, Ya Ya is now embarking on an extraordinary journey back to her roots in China. Prepare to be inspired by her strength as we embark on this joyful journey together!

The Adorable Giant Panda

Ya Ya was born on August 3, 2000, in Beijing, China. Under the terms of a special loan deal, she set off for her new home in Memphis, Tennessee. Joining her on this panda adventure was Le Le, a male panda born on July 18, 1998.


Source: Getty Images

Tragically, the panda community mourned the loss of Le Le when he passed away in February of 2023. However, throughout their stay, both Ya Ya and Le Le played an integral role in various research and conservation projects.


A Journey Back Home

In April 2023, the zoo hosted a special farewell party for Ya Ya as she prepared to return to China after a remarkable 20-year stay. With this, the zoo’s financing agreement with the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens came to an end.


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A veterinarian and a zoological officer will accompany Ya Ya to ensure her health and safety. The veterinarian will take care of her medical needs, while the zoological officer will handle all the necessary care and support.

Life Expectancy

Giant pandas live for about 15 years in the wild. However, in captivity, they have been known to live much longer, with some reaching the age of 38. This drastic difference in lifespan is a testament to the dedication of conservation efforts and the vital knowledge obtained from studying pandas in captivity.


Source: iStockphotos

These efforts have led to a huge growth in the number of giant pandas, from less than 1000 to about twice that.

Well Cared For

Advocacy groups such as In Defense of Animals and Panda Voices applauded the move to return the panda to China, voicing concerns about its well-being in a zoo setting.


Source: Getty Images

However, zoo administrators strongly refuted these reports, claiming that the information circulated by these groups was untrue. According to Zoo President and CEO Matt Thompson, Le Le and Ya Ya received outstanding care and were among the world’s most pampered animals.