Memphis Zoo pandas Le Le and Ya Ya heading back to China, new pandas could replace them in the future

Published: Dec. 21, 2022 at 5:26 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 21, 2022 at 5:35 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - After two decades in the Bluff City, Memphis’ beloved giant pandas, “Le Le” and “Ya Ya” will soon be saying goodbye.

The two pandas have been on loan from China since 2003, but Wednesday morning it was announced that the two will be going home in 2023.

However, it is possible that the panda exhibit will soon be home to more pandas.

Memphis Zoo officials said they are in active discussions with the Chinese government about bringing new pandas to Memphis.

After Le Le and Ya Ya’s departure, the exhibit will remain empty until all the details are ironed out.

The China Exhibit is home to several other animals with ties to Asia.

Wednesday morning news about Le Le and Ya Ya leaving Memphis came as one unpleasant surprise.

“It’s a pretty unique exhibit. We’ve been to a lot of zoos around the country, I don’t think we’ve ever seen a giant panda exhibit. We’ll be sad to see them go, said Loren Book who traveled from Dallas with his family to see the pandas.

20 years ago when the two pandas arrived in Memphis by a FedEx plane, Memphis was only the 4th zoo in the country to have pandas.

It was an effort that took years of negotiations to make happen.

In 2013 the Memphis Zoo extended its 10-year contract with the Chinese government to keep the pair in Memphis. ”I can’t believe they’ve been here for 20 years and they’re leaving, so the kids wanted to be sure we came to see them today while they’re here,” said Kathleen Gonzalez who just moved to Memphis last year.

Zoo officials say now that the two pandas have reached geriatric ages, Le Le is 24 and Ya Ya is 22,  it’s time to live out their final years back home in China.

Zoo officials say their impact on educating visitors from all over the world who have come to see them will be felt here in Memphis for years to come.

It’s unclear at this time when the pandas will leave Memphis, but zoo officials say when they do, they will be sent off in a grand style so everyone can come to say goodbye.

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