Giant panda Ya Ya has become an internet sensation again after Chinese state media showed images of her arriving at her new home in Beijing on Sunday, following an end to her quarantine since returning from the United States.
On Weibo, China’s heavily restricted version of Twitter, a hashtag tracking Ya Ya’s return quickly gained over 230 million views, topping the trending charts on Monday.
Ya Ya was loaned to Memphis Zoo back in 2003 at a high-point in US-China relations. But her scheduled return last month came to symbolize deteriorating relations between the world’s two superpowers, which have fallen to their lowest point in half a century.
Ya Ya was transported to Shanghai on April 4 after months of heated discussion on Chinese social media about whether she had received adequate care and attention while in the US – accusations first levied by animal advocates in 2021, and denied repeatedly by the Memphis Zoo.
Her return was huge news in China with an outpouring of nationalist sentiment online and her arrival heralded as a patriotic homecoming.
And the elderly panda blew up China’s internet again this week after she ended her month long quarantine on Sunday.
She was ferried on a China Southern Airlines chartered flight to the capital and placed in the care of Beijing Zoo, state news agency Xinhua reported.
A video of Ya Ya in Beijing posted by state broadcaster CCTV gained more than 200,000 likes as of Monday morning, with many social media users applauding her return.
In a statement posted online, Beijing Zoo said Ya Ya was in “stable condition” and they had prepared a special feeding ground for her.
Upon her return, however, Ya Ya will not be put on public display due to her old age, the zoo said, citing her need to adapt to a new environment.
For curious fans, regular updates will be posted on the zoo’s official Weibo page, it added.
Videos from the Beijing Zoo showed the aging panda surrounded by bamboo while staff prepared a lavish all-bamboo feast.
Many online comments praised Ya Ya’s new caretakers, while claiming the panda looked healthier than before.
“Her condition has improved a lot apparently!” read one top post liked by other users. “It’s only been a month and the panda looks like a different one now,” another user wrote.
Since at least 2019, Memphis Zoo has faced concerns from visitors and panda fans that Ya Ya looked thin and discolored. Concerns for her health were intensified after her male counterpart, Le Le, died in February 2023 just months before the pair were scheduled to return to China.
Memphis Zoo repeatedly dismissed speculations the aging bear was sick or malnourished. Instead, zoo officials and vets maintained Ya Ya was simply small framed but healthy, and attributed her fur loss to hormones.