WASHINGTON — We knew this day would come and it has arrived. The Smithsonian National Zoo's giant panda, Bei Bei took a one-way, non-stop flight for Chengdu, China on Tuesday afternoon.
Bei Bei left the zoo with a special forklift that took his crate from the David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat to a FedEx truck that carefully transported him to Dulles International Airport.
His crate was moved into a donated FedEx Panda Express aircraft where he was joined by one panda keeper and one veterinarian and a special flight crew. FedEx also donated a dedicated aircraft to bring Bei Bei's family to China years ago.
Bei Bei's crew packed his favorite treats, including bamboo, apples, pears, carrots, cooked sweet potatoes, biscuits, and water for his journey, so he's all set.
Zookeepers have worked for weeks to prepare Bei Bei for this journey. They made sure to get him acclimated to spending time in his crate with closed doors for the trip.
Bei Bei has to bid us a farewell as part of a breeding agreement between the U.S. and the China Wildlife Conservation Association. The agreement states that all pandas born at the zoo have to move to China when they reach four years old. Bei Bei's move is bigger than we think, it is to make sure the panda population is more diverse.
So here we are, with bittersweet feelings to say bye, bye to Bei Bei, the cutest 4-year-old panda that has stolen the hearts of many who came to see him.
We've watched him grow over the years thanks to the Zoo's panda cam and now he's off to live a great life.
"Our giant pandas represent much of what the Smithsonian does best, from conservation to education," said Lonnie Bunch, Secretary of the Smithsonian. "As we say goodbye to our beloved Bei Bei, our conservation scientists will continue to work in collaboration to prevent these animals from disappearing, giving them the opportunity to thrive in the wild, inspiring and teaching generations to come."
According to the National Zoo, giant pandas are listed as "vulnerable" in the wild by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. They said Chinese scientists are working to reintroduce giant pandas to the wild.
The Zoo held a week-long farewell celebration for Bei Bei where he was joined by many faced from across the country to say their goodbyes.