Take a panda’s advice, Memphis Zoo’s loan program is a winner in bonding


Le Le enjoys snacking on bamboo at the Memphis Zoo on June 16. Photo provided to China Daily

Want to know who will win the Super Bowl next year? If you’re like many Memphis residents, you can follow a trail to the Tennessee City Zoo and consult a panda on the outcome of the game.

Memphis Zoo resident Le Le has been making annual predictions about the winner of American football’s premier event since 2014. According to the zoo, Le Le has picked the winner three times in the past eight years.

Le Le, born in July 1998, and his partner Ya Ya, born in August 2000, have lived in Memphis since 2003.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the first giant pandas in the United States as a gift from China in 1972.

strong history

“I think the 50th anniversary shows that we can work together and that we have a long history in this area, and that we can come together around this common theme of giant panda conservation,” said Matt Thompson, president and general manager of the Memphis Zoo, told China Daily. “I’m very proud that we can be part of it.”

In 1997, James Sasser, then US Ambassador to China and former US Senator from Tennessee, and zoo officials began working on a panda loan program.

Six years later, the pair arrived in the United States on a FedEx jet with large panda faces painted on its sides.

The Le Le and Ya Ya viewing area at the zoo is part of a $16 million Chinese-themed complex that includes a 15-meter pagoda, cultural pavilion, garden and enclosures for other animals Chinese.

A visitor walking near the red pagoda at the entrance will see a bronze bell in the courtyard. The courtyard walls are bright red, the bricks are bright yellow, and the eaves are painted green and blue. At first glance, it seems that one has suddenly arrived at the Forbidden City in Beijing.

“We want our visitors, when they come to the China exhibit in particular, to feel like they’re visiting China,” Thompson said.

“Not everyone has the opportunity to travel around the world and see China. And China has such a rich cultural heritage over such a long history,” he said.

Around 8 a.m., Memphis Zoo keeper Elizabeth Whalen begins her daily routine with Le Le.

Whalen leads Le Le into the cage, where he sits and is weighed. Then, following Whalen’s body language, Le Le gets up and turns around in the cage. After doing these actions, Whalen gives Le Le some treats as a reward.

With this type of training, “we can check his physical condition, make sure he’s in top shape and make sure everything looks normal,” Whalen said. “We go through all of these behaviors every morning before we put them in the exhibit. So we can notice if there’s a difference, like how they’re feeling, how they’re doing.”

However, last year photos of the two pandas at the Memphis Zoo began circulating online after some people claimed the animals appeared malnourished and lacked proper care.

A video posted to Sina Weibo included a comment that one of the pandas at the zoo looked too skinny. As the video went viral, it sparked widespread concern among Chinese netizens, many of whom called for the pandas to be moved back home.

In response to concern over the condition of the pandas, the zoo said the animals were “receiving exemplary care”.

“Since their arrival in 2003, our male and female pandas have undergone extensive annual physical examinations which have always consisted of extensive diagnostic tests to assess them inside and out,” the Memphis Zoo said. in a press release.

A report from the China Association of Zoological Gardens, or CAZG, in April said monthly reports show the two Memphis pandas are receiving “excellent care.”

Physical examinations were carried out and the results indicate that the pandas are in normal condition and “there are no abnormalities”, according to a report from the association.

Scientific studies

Loan agreements for pandas from China really took off in 1982. In 1994, the long-term loan model between China and the United States emphasized partnership on scientific studies to protect the ‘species.

The Memphis Zoo and CAZG were partners even before the pandas arrived in the city.

The two organizations collaborated on the design and planning of the zoo’s Chinese exhibit, including the giant panda’s habitat, and over the past 19 years have continued to work together to ensure the best animal care. .

“We are constantly working with researchers in China working on various projects,” Whalen told China Daily.

Thompson said the research program “connects our countries” in an effort to protect pandas.

“No matter the relations between countries or what is happening in the world at the time, everyone is unanimous in the idea that we must save pandas, and pandas are very secret animals,” he said. -he declares.

Highlighting the cooperation between the two countries, the text of a speech delivered by Ambassador Sasser is displayed as part of the materials explaining the giant panda cooperation project at the Memphis Zoo.

“This panda exhibit is a show of trust between two great nations. It’s a demonstration of our willingness to learn from each other and work together,” the text reads.

“And I hope that as people in Tennessee get to know pandas and the country that is home to them, that trust will grow,” he said.

“Yes, we have built an exhibition. But we are also building a bridge – a bridge between two countries that did not always agree in the past – but as friends, as partners, we can shape the future of this planet.”

In 1987, the Memphis Zoo also hosted a panda for a month as part of a traveling exhibit that sparked a panda craze as visitors flocked to the zoo.

“Even though this animal had only been there for a month, thousands and thousands and thousands of people came to see this animal. We had a queue all the way to the parking lot because they were so excited to see this very rare animal,” Thompson said.

When Le Le and Ya Ya arrived in Memphis in 2003, the city became one of only four zoos in the United States to house pandas.

“There are only, I think, four zoos in America that have pandas. So that makes it a really special thing to have here in our zoo,” Mellissa, a local tourist at the zoo, told China Daily.

In 2008, a banner year, Le Le and Ya Ya helped the Memphis Zoo attract 1 million visitors.

According to a report by the Memphis Business Journal, an extension signed in 2013 allows the pandas to stay in Memphis until 2023.

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