Giant panda Le Le, 24, dies at Memphis Zoo
Le Le, a 24-year-old male giant panda, died at the Memphis Zoo earlier this week, officials said.
The panda died early Wednesday in its sleep after spending about 20 years at the facility, Memphis Zoo chief executive Matt Thompson said at a press conference on Friday.
“Le Le’s name translates to ‘happy happy,’ and his name perfectly reflects his personality,” the Memphis Zoo said in a statement.
The panda’s cause of death was not yet known, Thompson added. The zoo’s veterinary team and a group of panda experts from China will perform a post-mortem examination with “the intention of finding a reason for its death”, senior veterinarian Dr Felicia Knightly said.
Thompson described Le Le’s death as “sudden and unexpected” and said video footage from the days leading up to his death showed no indication that he was ill.
The death comes months before Le Le and the zoo’s female panda, Ya Ya, are to be sent back to China, as the Memphis Zoo’s giant panda loan agreement with the China Association of Zoological Gardens ends in april. Thompson noted that the Chinese association was the first to know of Le Le’s death.
“They have been very supportive and are working closely with us on this file. This is of course very sad news about this. They’ve been very understanding and they’re a great partner,” added Thompson.
A giant panda’s lifespan is typically between 15 and 20 years in the wild and can reach around 30 years in zoos, according to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. The animals are native to central China and are generally rare around the world.
“Only 1,864 giant pandas live in their natural habitat, while another 600 pandas live in zoos and breeding centers around the world,” noted the Smithsonian.
The Memphis Zoo hopes to get a younger pair of pandas in the future, according to Thompson.