Some stayed up all night long watching an app that tracked the flight carrying giant panda Ya Ya; some rushed to Shanghai Pudong International Airport to greet her flight. Ya Ya's return from the US has attracted wide attention from Chinese public, as they hoped a warm welcome can be a source of comfort for the aging giant panda who has spent the last two decades overseas and recently faced chronic health conditions.
A special flight carrying the female giant panda Ya Ya and carcass of giant panda Le Le arrived at the Shanghai airport at round 4:30 pm Thursday.
The Shanghai Zoo has set up special quarantine room for Ya Ya, including indoor houses, an outdoor sports space and an area for processing her food, the National Forestry and Grassland Administration told the Global Times. During her quarantine, the vets from the Beijing Zoo will be here for her on a 24 hour basis. Ya Ya will be quarantined in Shanghai Zoo for a month before heading for Beijing.
Groups of Shanghai residents rushed to the airport to welcome Ya Ya. Videos show the crowd that was waiting for Ya Ya burst into cheers when they saw the flight carrying Ya Ya descending. 10-year-old Xiao Le, a Shanghai student, rushed to the airport after he finished school. Xiao Le's grandmother, who accompanied him to the airport, told the Global Times that the child saw Ya Ya's poor health condition in the US on Douyin, China's short-video app, and felt sympathy for the bear, "so he insisted on picking up Ya Ya at the airport."
Twenty-nine year old Huang also went to the airport to welcome Ya Ya. He told the Global Times that hopefully his gesture will let the panda feel the public's love at home. "I saw Ya Ya's heart-wrenching condition online, so I hope warm welcome will offer her consolation."
For panda lovers who could not make it to the Shanghai airport, they launched an online "pickup" for Ya Ya. Hashtag "We welcome Ya Ya's return online" has accrued 340 million reads on China's Twitter-like platform Sina Weibo as of Thursday afternoon. Many netizens watched real-time tracking of Ya Ya's flight on their mobile devices since the flight took off at 12:05 pm Wednesday US time from the Memphis airport.
The safe landing of the flight carrying Ya Ya, as well as Le Le's carcass, soon became a hot topic on Chinese social media platforms. Nine out of 50 hottest hashtags are related to Ya Ya on Thursday afternoon. Hashtag "Ya Ya has landed in Shanghai" accumulated more than 520 million reads within hours.
Memphis Zoo, where Ya Ya has spent the past 20 years, issued a statement on Wednesday saying that "after 20 years, Ya Ya has become like family, and she will be sorely missed by the Memphis Zoo staff and the local community…We wish her the best of luck in her new home."
Video footage released by the National Forestry and Grassland Administration late Thursday night showed Ya Ya enjoying bamboo shoots and wandering around a large room, attended by a number of carers.
Ya Ya was born in the Beijing Zoo in August 2000. In April 2003, as part of a cooperation program on the protection and research of giant pandas between China and the US, Ya Ya and Le Le, a male panda from the Shanghai Zoo, were flown to Memphis.
Since the beginning of 2021, there have been continuous reports about the poor health conditions of Ya Ya and Le Le, with heart-wrenching photos surfacing online. After the death of Le Le in February 2023, pictures of the emaciated Ya Ya caused a stronger impact on the Chinese public, leading many netizens to call for the early return of Ya Ya.
Heart disease has been determined as the cause of death for Le Le, Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens announced on Thursday, the same day Le Le's body was returned to China.
The Memphis Zoo has a relatively sound management system and operating procedures. Ya Ya was taken good care of when living in the zoo and she was also deeply loved by US people, Mao Ning, spokesperson of China's Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday.
The National Forestry and Grassland Administration said that during the 20-year period of China and US working together on giant panda research, the two countries have made achievements such as personnel training, raising giant pandas and mutual exchanges. The administration said that this cooperation has played a positive role in preserving the endangered species and promoting friendship between the two countries.
Ya Ya will be quarantined in Shanghai for a period of time before settling in Beijing Zoo. Sun Quanhui, a scientist from the World Animal Protection organization, told the Global Times as Ya Ya will be adapting to a new life upon returning to China, tourists are suggested to not disturb her before she becomes familiar with her new home.
The container with giant panda Ya Ya inside is transferred out of the flight after it landed in Shanghai Pudong International Airport on Thursday afternoon. Photo: Courtesy of National Forestry and Grassland Administration