Bei Bei, the most famous resident of the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., has bid farewell to the U.S. capital.
Bei Bei is heading to China. The giant panda is now four years old.
That’s the age when all pandas born abroad go to China under their breeding agreements.
CGTN’s Giles Gibson reports from Washington.
Follow Giles Gibson on Twitter @Giles_news
If you’re an international celebrity, you travel in style. This is the Panda Express, Bei Bei’s private plane carrying him to China.
Also on board, an in-flight meal fit for a celebrity panda, including apples, pears and 30 kilograms of bamboo, some 65 pounds.
He began his journey home from his birthplace, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, where fans have been gathering all week to say goodbye.
Bei Bei was only on loan to the U.S. zoo, returning to China now that he’s four years old.
“It’s a very sad day on some level, but it’s also filled with pride that we’ve helped to create a healthy and happy, very strong giant panda that can contribute to conservation in China,” said Steven Monfort, Director the Smithsonian’s National Zoo.
Giant pandas were first designated “endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature back in 1990 because of poaching and deforestation.
An international effort has since boosted their numbers in the wild, but they’re still classed as “vulnerable” on a global list of species at risk of extinction.
Back at Dulles International Airport just outside the U.S. capital, it’s one last goodbye for the famous panda before his 16-hour non-stop flight.
Bei Bei was born at the zoo on Aug. 22, 2015, the cub (via artificial insemination) of National Zoo pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian. His name, which translates as “treasure” or “precious” in Mandarin, was jointly selected by former first lady Michelle Obama and Peng Liyuan, the first lady of the People’s Republic of China.
There are an estimated 1,800 giant pandas in the wild, all of them in southwestern China.
Story by The Associated Press with additional information from CGTN.
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