Giant panda Le Le dies after 20 years at Memphis Zoo

Feb 2, 2023, 6:31 PM | Updated: Feb 3, 2023, 4:50 pm

Ya Ya, the resident female panda at the Memphis Zoo, snacks on bamboo in her enclosure on Friday, F...

Ya Ya, the resident female panda at the Memphis Zoo, snacks on bamboo in her enclosure on Friday, Feb. 3, 2023. Ya Ya has been at the Memphis Zoo since 2003 alongside Le Le, who passed away Wednesday. (Patrick Lantrip/Daily Memphian via AP)

(Patrick Lantrip/Daily Memphian via AP)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Giant panda Le Le has died, the Memphis Zoo announced Friday.

The panda, born July 18, 1998, died Wednesday, zoo spokesperson Rebecca Winchester said in an email. His cause of death has yet to be determined as a medical investigation is pending, the zoo said.

“Le Le’s name translates to ‘happy happy,’ and his name perfectly reflected his personality,” the zoo said in a statement. “Le Le was a happy bear that enjoyed apples, engaging with enrichment and relaxing while covering himself with freshly shredded bamboo. He had an easy-going personality and was a favorite of all who met and worked with him over the years.”

Le Le’s peaceful death as he slept was “sudden and unexpected” with no indication that he was sick, zoo President and CEO Matt Thompson said at a news conference Friday. Nothing in video footage from the days leading up to Le Le’s death indicated that there was anything wrong with him, he said.

Le Le had been at the zoo since 2003 and was expected to return to China soon with female panda Ya Ya as a loan agreement ended with the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens.

Advocacy groups In Defense of Animals and Panda Voices raised concerns about the pandas’ conditions in the past and applauded the animals’ planned return to China. In recent days, Panda Voices members watching the panda cam saw Le Le collapse and when they tried to get information about his condition, they were told there were no known health issues, according to Tom Clemenson, the group’s U.S. spokesman.

“We are absolutely devastated,” Clemenson said. “Our fight continues. We will investigate as best we can.”

When asked about these allegations, Thompson, who referred to Le Le and Ya Ya as “two of the most spoiled animals on the planet,” said the groups had made false accusations over the years. Days before the panda’s death, there were a couple of hours when he was not eating well, perhaps due to a stomach upset, but it didn’t continue and he was “completely normal” a short time after, Senior Veterinarian Felicia Knightly said. Experts from the U.S. and China will complete a post-mortem examination, she said.

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. Decades of conservation efforts in the wild and study in captivity saved the giant panda from extinction, increasing its population from fewer than 1,000 at one time to more than 1,800 in the wild and captivity.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


moore redmond washington...

Associated Press

U.S. Supreme Court rules against Redmond couple challenging foreign income tax

The court ruled in the case of Charles and Kathleen Moore, of Redmond, Washington after they previously challenged a $15,000 tax bill.

3 days ago

Image:The New York Giants' Willie Mays poses for a photo during baseball spring training in 1972. M...

Associated Press

Willie Mays, Giants’ electrifying ‘Say Hey Kid,’ dies at 93

Willie Mays, whose singular combination of talent, drive and exuberance made him one of baseball’s greatest players, has died. He was 93.

5 days ago

Image: This photo provided by the Washington Department of Ecology shows a derailed BNSF train on t...

Associated Press

Judge orders BNSF to pay Washington tribe nearly $400M for trespassing with oil trains

BNSF Railway must pay the sum to a Native American tribe in Washington after it ran 100-car trains with crude oil on the tribe's reservation.

6 days ago

Photo: In this photo provided by Tieanna Joseph Cade, an amusement park ride is shown stuck with 30...

Associated Press

Crews rescue 28 people trapped upside down high on Oregon amusement park ride

Emergency crews in Oregon rescued 28 people after they were stuck dangling upside down high on a ride at a century-old amusement park.

6 days ago

juneteenth shooting texas...

Associated Press

2 killed and 6 wounded in shooting during a Juneteenth celebration in a Texas park

A shooting in a Texas park left two people dead and six wounded, including two children, on Saturday, authorities said.

7 days ago

Photo: Israeli soldiers drive a tank near the Israeli-Gaza border, in southern Israel, Wednesday, J...

Jack Jeffery, The Associated Press

8 Israeli soldiers killed in southern Gaza in deadliest attack on Israeli forces in months

An explosion in Gaza killed eight Israeli soldiers, the military said Saturday, making it the deadliest attack on Israeli forces in months.

8 days ago

Giant panda Le Le dies after 20 years at Memphis Zoo