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WASHINGTON – The Memphis Zoo in Memphis, Tennessee, announced Friday that Lele, the giant panda, has died.

“Le Le was loved not only by the city of Memphis, but by all of the Memphis Zoo keepers and staff,” the zoo said in a statement.

Male Le Le, born in 1998, came to the Memphis Zoo with his female giant panda Yaya.

Last December, the zoo said the iconic duo would “return to China in the coming months” as the current giant panda loan deal with the Chinese Zoo Association ends.

Le Le died in his sleep on Wednesday, a zoo spokesperson said. His cause of death has not yet been determined and his medical examination is pending.

“Over the past two decades, Lu Lu has delighted millions of guests, served as an exemplary ambassador for his species, and remains a shining symbol of our conservation partnership with the People’s Republic of China.

Two other US zoos, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, DC and the Atlanta Zoo in Atlanta, Georgia, house giant pandas.Xinhua News Agency Giant panda Lele dies in his sleep at the Memphis Zoo

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