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24-year-old giant panda Le Le dies at Memphis Zoo

<i>Joe Rondone/The Commercial Appeal/USA Today</i><br/>Giant panda Le Le is seen here at the Memphis Zoo in February 2021. Le Le died at the Memphis Zoo earlier this week.
Joe Rondone/The Commercial Appeal / USA TODAY NETWORK
Joe Rondone/The Commercial Appeal/USA Today
Giant panda Le Le is seen here at the Memphis Zoo in February 2021. Le Le died at the Memphis Zoo earlier this week.

By Rebekah Riess, CNN

Le Le, a 24-year-old male giant panda, died at the Memphis Zoo earlier this week, according to officials.

The panda died early Wednesday in his sleep after spending about 20 years at the facility, Memphis Zoo chief executive officer Matt Thompson said during a news conference Friday.

“Le Le’s name translates to ‘happy happy’, and his name perfectly reflected 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 complete a postmortem examination with the “intent to find a reason for his passing,” senior veterinarian Dr. Felicia Knightly said.

Thompson described Le Le’s death was “sudden and unexpected” and said video footage from the days leading up to his death showed no indication that he was sick.

The death comes months before Le Le and the zoo’s female panda, Ya Ya, were set to be returned to China as the Memphis Zoo’s giant panda loan agreement with the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens comes to an end in April. Thompson noted the Chinese association was the first to be informed of Le Le’s death.

“They have been very supportive of us and are working with us very closely on this. They are, of course, very sad news about this. They’ve been very understanding and they’re a great partner,” Thompson added.

A giant panda’s lifespan is typically between 15 and 20 years in the wild and may 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 they are generally rare worldwide.

“As few as 1,864 giant pandas live in their native habitat, while another 600 pandas live in zoos and breeding centers around the world,” the Smithsonian noted.

The Memphis Zoo hopes to receive a younger pair of pandas in the future, according to Thompson.

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CNN’s Aya Elamroussi contributed to this report.

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