Bei Bei, the beloved giant panda, will bid adieu to the United States and depart for China on Tuesday morning, but not before taking part in one last Washingtonian tradition: The long trek to Dulles International Airport.
The 240-pound panda will have dedicated transportation from his home at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo; a forklift will move his travel crate to a FedEx truck, which will head to Dulles International Airport.
“Today is bittersweet,” Steve Monfort, director of the Zoo said. “We’ve cared for Bei Bei, and along with millions, watched him grow into a true ambassador for his species. We are grateful to everyone who joined us for his farewell celebration. I am immensely proud of our team who have prepared Bei Bei for the next chapter of his life as he enters the breeding program in China. We look forward to continuing our 47-year giant panda conservation program and collaboration with Chinese colleagues to study, care for and help save the giant panda and its native habitat.”
Once at the airport, there will be no crowds to navigate: The 4-year-old will travel directly from Virginia to Chengdu, China, on a private cargo jet with an entourage that includes his lifelong keeper and the National Zoo’s chief veterinarian. “The panda team will continuously monitor Bei Bei during the trip,” according to an announcement from the zoo.
Bei Bei’s menu includes 66 pounds of bamboo, two bags of leafeater biscuits, two pounds of apples and pears, two pounds of cooked sweet potatoes and water for the long 16 hour trip. The cargo area will be kept at a comfortable-for-panda temperature, between 60 and 65 degrees, a FedEx spokeswoman said. According to the zoo, cool-weather months are better for the creatures to travel.
“He will be able to move, eat and play with his toys in complete comfort,” FedEx spokeswoman Rae Lyn Rushing said in an email. “The enclosure is constructed in a way to clean and maintain it as needed.”
Upon arrival in Chengdu, Bei Bei’s new keepers from the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda will meet him on the tarmac and drive him to Bifengxia Panda Base where he will stay in quarantine for approximately 30 days. The American team will follow, and Thompson will remain with Bei Bei for a few days while he acclimates to his new home. Bei Bei will enter the giant panda breeding program when he reaches sexual maturity between 6 and 7 years old.
Bei Bei must leave his birthplace of Washington under an agreement with China, which owns the pandas in U.S. zoos. As part of a cooperative breeding program, pandas must move to China once they turn 4. Bei Bei’s older siblings Bao Bao and Tai Shan already made the same trip in 2017 and 2010, respectively. His parents, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, will remain at the National Zoo.
Bei Bei was born Aug. 22, 2015, at the Zoo’s David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat. His name translates to “precious” or “treasure” in Chinese. In celebration of the September 2015 state visit and as a special honor for the cub, the name was selected by former First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, and First Lady of the People’s Republic of China, Peng Liyuan. At his first-birthday zhuazhou (dra-JO) ceremony, mother Mei Xiang helped Bei Bei select a banner depicting the Chinese red knot, representing friendship and luck. He is the third surviving cub of his parents Mei Xiang (may-SHONG) and Tian Tian (tee-YEN tee-YEN).
The FedEx Panda Express flies again! We put panda decals on this 777F just for Bei Bei’s ride from Washington DC to China. Bei Bei will be the only cargo on this special direct flight, unless you count the 66 pounds of bamboo, snacks & water. #ByeByeBeiBei https://t.co/m6atXXmSUe pic.twitter.com/GSPBVrZObu
— FedEx (@FedEx) November 16, 2019