Giant Panda Bei Bei, who was named by former First Lady Michelle Obama in 2015, is departing the U.S. for China on Tuesday.
According to a statement on the Smithsonian National Zoo’s website, Bei Bei’s transfer comes as part of the Zoo’s cooperative agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association, which states that all cubs born at the Zoo must move to China when they turn 4.
“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.”
In order to prepare Bei Bei for the trip, panda keepers will be acclimating him to walking through a travel crate. Once adjusted, they will acclimate him to spending short periods of time in it with the door closed. He will be offered treats while he is inside.
The statement said that Bei Bei will be accompanied by one panda keeper and one veterinarian on his trip. FedEx will fly Bei Bei and the team non-stop from Washington, D.C., to Chengdu, China, in a B777 aircraft.
FedEx also transported Bei Bei’s older brother Tai Shan to China in 2010, older sister Bao Bao to China in 2017 and their parents, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, to the United States in 2000, the Zoo added.
Bei Bei will be continuously monitored during the trip and will travel with a supply of treats such as bamboo, apples, pears, carrots, cooked sweet potatoes, biscuits and water.
Once in Chengdu, Bei Bei will be brought by his new keepers to one of the bases run by the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda. He will enter the giant panda breeding program when he reaches sexual maturity, between 5 and 7 years old.
Beginning last week and ending Monday, Nov. 18, the Zoo is holding an online and on-site series of “Bye Bye, Bei Bei” celebratory events in honor of the beloved panda. Details can be found on the Zoo’s website.
Obama and Peng landed on the name Bei Bei, which means “precious, treasure” in Mandarin Chinese, according to Zoo director Dennis Kelly.
At the event, Mrs. Obama shared her family’s love for the zoo, mentioning that daughter Malia had done several internships at the facility. Through an interpreter, Ms. Peng also spoke of her love for pandas, remarking on the number of panda images plastered around the national capital and her disappointment over missing Bei Bei’s birth on the panda cam.
“The giant panda exemplifies the common bond between China and the United States,” Ms. Peng said. “We do need more bonds to bring the people of our two countries ever more close and I think the giant panda is one of those bonds we can celebrate to achieve that goal.”