Singer Billie Eilish calls for retirement of Memphis Zoo pandas YaYa and LeLe

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Popular singer Billie Eilish has teamed up with international animal protection nonprofits In Defense of Animals and Panda Voices to call for the immediate retirement of giant pandas YaYa and LeLe.

According to a release from In Defense of Animals, over 110,000 people across the world have now signed a petition and In Defense of Animals’ alert to express concern for the pandas’ welfare.

A statement from Fleur Dawes, Communications Director for the nonprofit, reads, in part:

“Anyone can see these pandas are in crisis and in urgent need of rescue. We hope Billie’s call on Memphis Zoo CEO Jim Dean will encourage him to stop the torture of YaYa and LeLe and send them back to China. These pandas deserve to have suitable food and medical care, and retire to a life that resembles the wild as closely as possible.”

Eilish, who is vegan, has been using her influence to raise awareness about animal cruelty and suffering, to defend animal rights, and to encourage her followers to consider a plant-based diet, the release said.

MORE: Memphis Zoo responds to concerns, says giant pandas are healthy

Following previous concerns for the pandas’ wellbeing, the Memphis Zoo released a statement in early 2021 that the pandas were healthy.

Zoo officials said both pandas get 100 to 150 pounds of fresh bamboo each day.

Tuesday evening, the Memphis Zoo released the following statement:

The Memphis Zoo would like to address the misinformation that has been distributed recently regarding the health and well-being of our Giant Pandas, Le Le and Ya Ya. These pandas have called the Memphis Zoo home since 2003. Our pandas have been the inspiration for multiple research studies regarding nutrition, reproduction, and forestry habitat restoration, all of which have contributed to the massive success of having the Giant Panda removed from the endangered species list. We are partnered with the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens (CAZG) who we are in constant communication with regarding the status of our pandas. We report to CAZG monthly sharing the status of husbandry, reproductive, and nutritional information for both bears. These reports include graphs of the pandas’ weights, amount of food consumed and defecated, as well as the enrichment they receive.

Since their arrival in 2003, both our male and female pandas have had thorough annual physical examinations which have always consisted of extensive diagnostic testing in order to evaluate them internally as well as externally. These exams have also involved additional input by multiple experts in reproductive physiology, ultrasonography, and dentistry. Per the direction of the CAZG, during these annual exams we have collected semen from our male and performed artificial insemination on our female. As our bears have entered a geriatric phase of life, we have increased the number of physical exams conducted annually to reassure both our partners and the public that these bears are being vigilantly monitored. Through voluntary participation, known as operant conditioning, our bears have blood and urine samples examined monthly which are monitored for early indicators of infection or disease, as well as the appropriate functioning of their organ systems. These exams are done both proactively and for diagnostic purposes to ensure our bears are receiving exemplary care.

In addition, there have been many concerns surrounding our female Giant Panda, Ya Ya. Despite annual attempts of natural breeding and artificial insemination as per recommendation and consultation with CAZG, this individual over the last 20 years has had minimal success conceiving and zero success maintaining a pregnancy. Regarding her stature, people have noted that she is a very small bear. Phenotypically speaking, this does not stem from her nutrition, but her familial genetics. In conclusion, Ya Ya also lives with a chronic skin and fur condition which is inherently related to her immune system and directly impacted by hormonal fluctuations. This condition does not affect her quality of life but does occasionally make her hair look thin and patchy. The condition is closely monitored by our animal care team and veterinary staff.

With an active research team who is devoted to expanding the conservation impact of our zoo, they have developed methods for artificial insemination that allow for sperm to be frozen, transported across the world to China, then thawed to be evaluated and utilized for artificial insemination around the world. Our male Giant Panda, Le Le, has sired offspring through this process. Additionally, our teams have been a part of global restoration coalitions to restore forests for the natural populations of Giant Pandas.

We are extremely proud of the work and dedication of our animal care teams, veterinary staff, and research teams. They are devoted to global conservation as well as the animals in their care. We are incredibly grateful to our loyal zoo supporters who have followed Le Le and Ya Ya’s lives over the last two decades. We encourage anyone who wants to learn more about our bears and our mission as a zoo to come visit us.