MEMPHIS, Tenn. — International pop superstar Billie Eilish made waves on social media Tuesday when she announced her support for a petition by In Defense of Animals to have Memphis Zoo pandas Le Le and Ya Ya sent back to China.
Eilish supported the petition by re-tweeting a video posted by In Defense of Animals on Twitter.
The animal advocacy group references artificial insemination causing possible irreversible health damage to Ya Ya and parasite infections causing her skin disease as well as an improper and insufficient diet. The group also said the pandas suffer psychological damage by being put in small cages for 18 hours a day.
"We ask you to encourage Memphis Zoo CEO Jim Dean to send Ya Ya and Le Le back to their homeland China immediately," In Defense of Animals said on their petition site. "They have already sacrificed their entire lives to entertain humans. Now they are senior pandas reaching to the end of their life span, Ya Ya and Le Le deserve a retirement life without sufferings!"
As of Tuesday evening, the petition has over 72,000 online signatures.
The Memphis Zoo responded to the whirlwind of activity on social media caused by Eilish's re-tweet by saying that Ya Ya's skin condition is a result of genetics, not conditions at the zoo. They also say that while her skin may look patchy, her quality of life is not affected, and that they do their best to give their pandas high quality care.
Read Memphis Zoo's full response below:
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.