MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Memphis Zoo said Tuesday that a preliminary report on the death of giant male panda Le Le indicates he died of heart disease.
The zoo announced Friday, Feb. 3, 2023, that Le Le died at 25-years-old.
The zoo told ABC24 that a final pathology report will be released and is expected to confirm what was observed during an anatomical examination, which included panda experts from both China and the Memphis Zoo. The zoo also said heart disease is “not necessarily out of the ordinary for a panda of advanced age.”
Le Le, whose name translates to "happy happy," was born on July 18, 1998, and he was brought to the Memphis Zoo in 2003.
Le Le was expected to return to China soon with female panda Ya Ya as a loan agreement ended with the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens.
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.
The advocacy group In Defense of Animals applauded the decision to return the animals, saying they had been suffering in the zoo setting. Zoo officials have said the pandas are healthy and well taken care of, with as much as they want to eat.