Female giant panda Ya Ya, having lived in the United States for two decades, will return to China within the next few days, according to the National Forestry and Grassland Administration.
As arranged by the Chinese and U.S. sides, she will board a homeward-bound plane to Shanghai.
Ya Ya was born at the Beijing Zoo on Aug. 3, 2000. She arrived at the Memphis Zoo in April 2003, along with giant panda Le Le as envoys of friendship, and was warmly welcomed.
The Memphis Zoo announced in December 2022 that it would return Ya Ya to China, concluding 20 years of cooperative research on time. Hundreds of people said goodbye to Ya Ya on April 8 at her farewell event at the zoo ahead of her return to China.
The initial agreement for Ya Ya's stay in the U.S. was for 10 years. It was extended for another decade in 2013.
In February, a Chinese expert group arrived at the Memphis Zoo to check Ya Ya's health. According to their evaluation, a skin disease caused hair loss in Ya Ya, but she had a good appetite, normal excrement, and stable weight.
A veterinarian and a keeper from the Beijing Zoo reached the Memphis Zoo last month and worked with the experts from the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens, who had arrived earlier, to get familiar with the living habits and feeding conditions of Ya Ya.
They also worked along with staff on the U.S. side for Ya Ya's breeding, nursing, and health assessment and made further preparations for her return to ensure a safe and sound trip.
The Memphis Zoo has a relatively sound management system and operation procedures, said the veterinarian, noting that Ya Ya's body weight and health condition are stable now.
Keepers at the Memphis Zoo would record the time, type, and weight of food provided to Ya Ya every day, as well as the situation of her excrement, while veterinarians would conduct health examinations on Ya Ya on time. This data is provided to the Chinese side regularly, according to the veterinarian.
"To better breed Ya Ya after she returns to China, we also learned some gestures and commands for behavior training from U.S. keepers at Memphis," said the Beijing Zoo keeper sent to Memphis.
The veterinarian said that the Chinese staff learned about how Ya Ya is fed and cared for in Memphis and had some interactions with her.
The panda has recently been feeding on biscuits from China so that her digestive system can adapt as soon as possible. Training has also been conducted to help her get accustomed to the shipping crate for the cross-ocean flight.
The Memphis Zoo has been feeding Ya Ya with different types of bamboo, and how much she eats varies seasonally, said Associate Curator Lauren Caskey at Memphis Zoo, adding that sugar canes, grapes, and biscuits are also provided.
Special care is needed for an aging panda, and zoo staff take detailed notes on Ya Ya's diet and carefully look at her mouth, back, and hands daily, said Caskey.
In her eyes, Ya Ya is funny and likes to be close with people. "When Ya Ya sees you, she always comes over to say hi and you actually do see a smile on her face."
"We've had a wonderful opportunity to have our colleagues from China here, and we've been helping give them all the information about our wonderful Ya Ya," said Caskey.
"Ya Ya is so smart and adaptable, and I know she is gonna do great when she goes back to China," she said.