After US stay, millions of Chinese welcome panda home 2023

After a health scandal at a US zoo, giant panda Ya Ya returned to China.

Ya Ya landed in Shanghai Thursday afternoon amid a social media frenzy. Panda fans who couldn’t go to the airport organized an online Ya Ya pick-up.

Before her 16-hour flight from Memphis, Tennessee, Sina Weibo’s “We welcome Ya Ya’s return online” had 340 million reads.

After 20 years at the Memphis Zoo, Ya Ya returns to China amid health debate.

By Thursday evening, the Sina Weibo hashtag “Ya Ya has landed in Shanghai” had 430 million views.

A year after news of her and Memphis Zoo’s male panda Le Le’s bad health, Ya Ya returned to China on a special trip.

Panda fans in China, the US, and others were alarmed by Le Le’s February death and Ya Ya’s thin, bony photos online.

As US-China relations deteriorated over Taiwan, Xinjiang, and human rights, some critics accused the US of neglecting the pandas.

After Ya Ya returned home, most are focused on her health.

“We need to find out the real reason why Ya Ya is sick now,” a Beijing resident named only as Ms Shi told Al Jazeera. Experts must be heard. If someone erred, we must be more logical. Perhaps the American zoo failed. The Sino-American connection is unrelated. We must rationalize.”

As a sign of friendship, China lends pandas to zoos across the world. To match Beijing’s criteria, many zoos spend millions on panda habitats, including Malaysia’s air-conditioned enclosure.

In 2003, Beijing Zoo’s 2000-born Ya Ya was sent to Memphis Zoo for conservation.

According to last month’s Global Times story, the zoo paid $16m to establish a giant panda facility with traditional Chinese cultural aspects, put up a breeding management and veterinary team, and cultivate 4 hectares (10 acres) of bamboo before Ya Ya’s arrival.

April ended the deal.

Memphis Zoo announced on Facebook that the panda was returning to China to live out her golden years. After 20 years, Ya Ya has become like family, and the Memphis Zoo employees and community will miss her.”

The Chinese authorities acknowledged the US’s panda care.

On Wednesday, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Mao Ning said the Memphis Zoo gave the giant pandas good care and the American public loved them.

Ya Ya started shedding fur in 2006 and intensified in 2014. According to the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens, Memphis Zoo and Chinese experts tried several therapies but failed.

The organization reported heart disease killed Le Le. Ya Ya and his remains flew to China.

Beijing-based China researcher Einar Tangen accused Western media for creating a Chinese uproar over Ya Ya’s health.

“She’s a Western symbol. They claim state-owned media is inciting the Chinese population. He told Al Jazeera, “No.”

State media claims she’s fine and we’re just bringing her back. It shows how far US and Chinese perceptions have diverged.”

China lends 60 gigantic pandas to other nations, according to the Global Times.

Mr. Su, a Beijinger, said the panda is a national treasure. “It’s good that foreigners can learn about pandas.”

Ya Ya will quarantine for 30 days before going to Beijing Zoo.

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