Detractors of the Memphis Zoo’s treatment of the two giant pandas on loan from the Chinese government have previously claimed the Chinese Association Zoological Gardens expressed concern about the overall health of the pandas, Le Le and Ya Ya.
A new statement from that very organization refutes that claim and reinforces what the Memphis Zoo has said all along — the pandas are safe and healthy.
“CAZG is confident that the giant pandas at the Memphis Zoo are receiving the highest quality of care,” the zoo said. A statement from the CZAG, written in Mandarin, was linked in the news release.
The panda fracas began in the latter half of 2020, after a pair of photos of both pandas began circulating throughout social media platforms.
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The photos could be seen as alarming if the beholder had no previous zoological training or experience. Each panda looked thin, with large patches of reddish skin.
Animal advocacy organizations like In Defense of Animals began to pay close attention to panda matters in Memphis, through use of the zoo’s own panda cams and area animal rights activists, according to a spokesperson for the organization, Fleur Dawes.
A website launched in support of removing Le Le and Ya Ya and returning them to China created a petition that eventually garnered more than 72,000 signatures.
And finally, in January, signer Billie Eilish threw her support behind In Defense of Animal’s position that the pandas should be returned to their natural habitat in their native China.
Over the course of speculation and calls for intervention, the Memphis Zoo responded with multiple detailed statements that broke down the care spectrum of the giant pandas from the monthly diagnostic blood tests to their ongoing, amicable relationship with the Chinese government.
In short, the pandas are in excellent health considering their age and existing genetics, the zoo said, repeatedly.
Whether the CZAG’s endorsement of the care Le Le and Ya Ya will result in any changed minds among detractors is yet to be seen.
In Defense of Animals, an international organization, maintains the zoo has not been transparent about alleged concern from the CZAG. The organization points to an older statement from the CZAG that, the organization said, expresses concerns over the panda’s condition and requests changes in the animal’s care standards.
The organization also said public records requests for lab work results has also gone unanswered.
“Memphis Zoo’s failure to release CAZG’s first statement or mention the suggestions and concerns raised by CAZG and Chinese zoos reveals how Memphis Zoo is continuing to cheat the public by leaving out important facts,” said Dawes. “Memphis Zoo’s attempts to sidestep public accountability will not satisfy hundreds of thousands of concerned citizens.”
A spokesperson for The Memphis Zoo did not acknowledge those assertions from In Defense of Animals, and said the zoo stands by all previous statements regarding ongoing care and a consistent, productive relationship with the CZAG.
“We are in constant communication with our partners in China and have received full support for how we care for our giant pandas. We stand by all our previous statements that we have made to the public over the years. We have remained incredibly transparent,” a spokesperson said.
Many experts in the field of zoology and veterinary medicine, the zoo said, would confirm the bears are in good health.
“We have nothing more to say on the matter,” the zoo said.
Micaela Watts is a reporter for The Commercial Appeal and can be reached at email@example.com.