Memphis Zoo addresses concerns for panda’s health: ‘She just looks a little special’

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Ya Ya the panda

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Zoo experts give Ya Ya the giant panda a clean bill of health after concern from some over one of the Memphis Zoo’s major attractions.

The zoo has received concerned messages from many on social media about the well-being of the pandas. Some say Ya Ya is looking thin. 

Courtney Janney, director of Animal Programs with the Memphis Zoo, said 21-year-old Ya Ya looks perfectly normal for her age and size. 

WATCH: Memphis Zoo’s Panda Cam

“She looks a little bit different than what you would consider your stereotypic, very robust giant panda. She’s always been smaller framed, and she carries her weight a little bit differently,” Janney said.

Right now, Janney said Ya Ya is going into a season when she’s hormonal and spending 23 hours a day sleeping.

“She just isn’t eating as many calories and the weight falls off of her,” Janney said. “The good news is, we have plenty of data on Ya Ya following the last 20 years, and she is following the exact weight pattern she always does.”

She also said Ya Ya’s coat might not look like what you’d expect, but it was normal for her.

“Her coat is also not as robust as a ‘normal panda,’ but that is typical Ya Ya, and so we cannot put out there vehemently enough that she is healthy,” Janney said. “She just looks a little special.” 

Ya Ya and another male panda, Le Le, have been at the zoo since 2003. The zoo’s senior veterinarian says they both receive regular exams. 

“Both of them are over middle-aged and so we need to take that into consideration and we need the public to also take that into consideration,” senior veterinarian Felicia Knightly said.

Both bears are also fed the same food when they’re awake: bamboo, a special biscuit chow with added vitamins and minerals and produce. 

The zoo also says they’re in close contact with China and other institutions that have pandas to work together for the betterment of the animals. 

Knightly says that just like humans, as pandas get older, appearances change.

“But that doesn’t necessarily mean that something is wrong,” she said. “Our bears right now, clinically and on paper, are very healthy.”

This isn’t the first time the zoo has responded to concerns on social media over Ya Ya’s health. They did so in 2019 and earlier this year.

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