China is prepared to bring back giant panda Ya Ya from a zoo in the United States as soon as possible, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Tuesday.
The 20-year loan agreement for joint research and conservation projects between the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens and Memphis Zoo in Tennessee that landed Ya Ya in the U.S. in April 2003 ended on Friday.
The zoo hosted a farewell party for the female panda on Saturday and is currently awaiting a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to send her home to China.
Many people in China have been concerned about 22-year-old Ya Ya's health after her male partner, Le Le, who was also sent on loan to the U.S. zoo for research and conservation projects, died in February ahead of the pair's scheduled return. He was 25.
The female panda is in "relatively stable condition", except for her fur condition caused by a skin disease, Wang said at a regular news conference.
Experts from the association and Beijing Zoo are in the U.S. working with Memphis Zoo officials to feed and care for Ya Ya, the spokesman said.
China has completed all preparations for the giant panda's return, and will strengthen coordination with the U.S. to conduct a health assessment before her journey home, he said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is scheduled to issue an export permit for Ya Ya and the remains of Le Le in accordance with required procedures after soliciting public comments on the permit until Wednesday, and China will bring her back safely as soon as possible once the permit is issued, Wang said.
Quarantine and feeding enclosures for Ya Ya have been readied, and her feeding plans and medical care prepared, he added.
According to the association, Chinese and U.S. experts have conducted an autopsy on Le Le and come to the initial opinion that he died of heart disease.
Ya Ya, who was born in Beijing in August 2000, is now old in terms of giant panda years, the association said. Memphis Zoo conducted physical checkups for Ya Ya and Le Le every year, and formed a health assessment for them every month, according to the association.