The French President Georges Pompidou received a goodwill gift from the Chinese government on December 8, 1973: Yen Yen & Li Li, a pair of giant pandas.
Yen Yen & Li Li were both born approximately in September 1972. Yen Yen was captured in Pigwu County in the Chinese Sichuan Province in April 1973 and Li Li was captured in Baoxing County in the Chinese Sichuan Province in March 1973.
Both pandas were transferred to the Beijing Zoo on October 19, 1973.
Yen Yen & Li Li arrived in Paris on December 8, 1973 and moved to the Zoo de Vincennes. This zoo at the Bois de Vincennes was built according to an architectural model of Carl Hagenbeck. It was a revolutionary model for its time. The people and the public were not separated by bars, but the animals were presented on exhibit platforms with ditches around.
Li Li died on April 20, 1974, only a few months after their arrival, from a pancreas tumour.
A mistake was made when this panda ‘pair’ was chosen, since they were both males…
But Yen Yen became the biggest star of the zoo until his death on January 20, 2000. Just like Li Li, many years before, the cause of his death was a pancreas tumour. He became 27 years old.
I visited Yen Yen in 1992, 1995, 1996 & 1998.
Our visit to the Zoo de Vincennes in 1992 was my first panda trip abroad.
Yen Yen’s home, the Zoo de Vincennes, was closed to the public in 2008 for large renovations. It is expected to reopen in a few years…
France’s panda future will start soon at 230 km from Vincennes, at ZooParc de Beauval in Saint-Aignan.