Bei Bei, a giant panda that has been a resident of D.C.’s Smithsonian National Zoo since he was born in 2015, is leaving for China on November 19, according to an announcement from the institute.
In a statement titled “Bye Bye, Bei Bei” on October 18, Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute invited D.C. locals to a series of celebratory events to say goodbye to Bei Bei ahead of his travel to China. The events will be both online and on-site.
As per a cooperative breeding agreement between the Smithsonian institute and the China Wildlife Conservation Association (CWCA), the giant panda was planned to stay in the country until he turned four, which happened in August.
“All cubs born at the Zoo move to China when four years old to breed with other pandas, helping to keep the population genetically diverse,” the statement said.
After they move to China, giant pandas will take part in the breeding program once they reach sexual maturity between five and seven years old.
“Our giant pandas represent much of what the Smithsonian does best, from conservation to education,” Lonnie Bunch, secretary of the Smithsonian, said in the statement. “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.”
We are officially bidding a bitter-sweet farewell to #BeiBei! He will move to China Nov. 19. We are hosting a farewell celebration from Nov. 11 to Nov. 18. #PandaStory #ByeByeBeiBei https://t.co/hEMAXB5vZe pic.twitter.com/IRhZYNLyPe
— National Zoo (@NationalZoo) October 18, 2019
Calling Bei Bei “part of our family,” Steve Monfort, director of the Smithsonian’s institute, said:
“Our team has cared for him, learned from him and, along with millions, loved watching him grow. We’re sad he’s leaving, but excited for the contributions he will make to the global giant panda population. Bei Bei is an ambassador for conservation and part of a 47-year program that proves bringing species and habitats back from the brink is possible through global cooperation.”
While keepers at the zoo are preparing Bei Bei for his move, other preparations have been going on for celebratory public events that will take place from Monday, November 11, through Monday, November 18. Bei bei will also be streamed live on the institute’s website on Panda Cam 1.
The institute explained on its website that giant pandas were listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and that there are currently around 1,800 of them in the wild.
In order to increase the number of wild pandas and their habitat, scientists in China have been putting efforts such as the breeding program. They are aiming to reintroduce pandas born in zoos to the wild.