The Grammy-winning singer Billie Eilish, vegan since age 12, has voiced her support of a campaign to move two giant pandas from Memphis Zoo in Tennessee (US) to China. In Defense of Animals, an animal protection nonprofit based in California, and Panda Voices, an organization created for this issue, are campaigning to “free” the giant pandas YaYa and LeLe, who have been held captive by Memphis Zoo for 19 years. 

The American musician announced her support by retweeting a tweet from In Defense of Animals, that includes footage of YaYa and LeLe looking underweight and behaving in a distressed manner. In some of the clips, you can see a panda showing stereotypic behaviour, an indicator of having difficulties coping with captive life. In particular, showing “circling”, walking around in a circle over and over, and “neck twisting”, repeated unnatural quick twists of the neck.

Fleur Dawes, Communications Director for In Defense of Animals, said in a press release: “We are thrilled that Billie Eilish has joined our campaign to free YaYa and LeLe from horrendous suffering at Memphis Zoo… Anyone can see these pandas are in crisis and in urgent need of rescue. We hope Billie’s call on Memphis Zoo CEO Jim Dean will encourage him to stop the torture of YaYa and LeLe and send them back to China. These pandas deserve to have suitable food and medical care, and retire to a life that resembles the wild as closely as possible.”

Vera Yevseeva, a spokesperson of Panda Voices, said: “We are delighted that Billie Eilish is joining our fight. Memphis Zoo may keep blocking us on social media, posting updates with old videos and photos, and denying all the problems, but the situation of their pandas is so appalling that people are starting to question their attitude and realize the serious issues animals face in their enclosures.”

Over 75,000 people across the world have now signed a Change.org petition asking Memphis Zoo CEO Jim Dean to return YaYa and LeLe to their country of origin, preferably to a sanctuary. Although that would still be a captive life and therefore far from satisfactory (they should not have been taken from the wild or be born in captivity in the first place), at least it is hoped that it will be an improvement as the climate would be appropriate, they would have more access to their natural food (bamboo), and may no longer be exposed to many visitors and used for entertainment. Panda Voices stated that these two pandas have been mistreated at Memphis Zoo (which dismisses all as misinformation) and are visibly distressed, suffering from insufficient bamboo, malnourishment, excessive caging time (more than hours every day), skin mite disease, dental issues and psychological problems. Although we don’t know how they could end up treated in China, it’s difficult to imagine that their life would be worse there. 

“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.