Memphis Zoo mourns loss of giant panda ‘Le Le’

Published: Feb. 3, 2023 at 8:16 AM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Memphis Zoo announced the passing of the giant panda “Le Le.”

Le Le was born on July 18, 1998, and passed at the age of 25.

clarification: NOTE — In China, it’s customary to be considered one year old upon birth.

Memphis Zoo says Le Le was a happy bear that enjoyed apples, engaging with enrichment and relaxing while covering himself with freshly shredded bamboo.

“(Le Le) has been seen in person by at least 18 million people,” said Memphis Zoo President and CEO Matt Thompson. “We are remembering Le Le for delighting his keepers, all of the Memphis Zoo team, the City of Memphis, and literally millions of people around the world.”

Le Le had an easy-going personality and was a favorite of all who met and worked with him over the years.

What makes the news of his passing worse is that the Memphis Zoo has been closed the last couple of days due to this week’s ice storm, making Friday especially quiet.

Over the last twenty years, Le Le has delighted millions of guests, served as an exemplary ambassador for his species, and remains a shining symbol of a conservation partnership with the People’s Republic of China, says Memphis Zoo.

Le Le and his giant panda counterpart Ya Ya were on loan from the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens (CAZG) and were scheduled to return to China in April of this year.

Thompson said CAZG was the first to know.

“(CAZG) has been very supportive of us and are working with us very closely on this,” Thompson said. “They are, of course, very saddened about this.”

At this time, the cause of death is unknown. The investigation is pending.

Animal Activist groups like In Defense of Animals and Panda Voices released a statement Friday morning, saying Le Le’s health had been declining and that captivity prevented him from living a longer life.

“It’s beyond heartbreaking that Le Le died prematurely of neglect and inadequate care when he was so close to being returned to China,” said Brittany Michelson, Captive Animals Campaigner for In Defense of Animals. “Memphis Zoo blatantly failed him. His health was clearly suffering, yet no recommended changes were made to help him or Ya Ya. Memphis Zoo has demonstrated its inability to properly care for the pandas, and must not be allowed to exhibit them in the future.”

Thompson rebutted this statement and others, saying Le Le was in good health up until the time of his death and that he lived a long life.

The zoo CEO said giant pandas can traditionally live up to 30 years in captivity, but “it really depends on the animal.”

“We reviewed video footage for days leading up to this,” said Thompson. “We saw no indication that would lead us to believe that there was anything wrong with Le Le. (Activist groups) are taking this opportunity to continue to tell untruths. That’s unfortunate.”

Here is a video of the pandas arriving in 2003.

The plan is to continue to have pandas at the Memphis Zoo, after Ya Ya’s departure.

For now, a memorial sits inside Le Le’s dayroom in the giant panda exhibit, giving future zoogoers a small glimpse into his legacy as a Bluff City attraction.

Click here to sign up for our newsletter!

Click here to report a spelling or grammar error. Please include the headline.