The Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C. said goodbye on Tuesday to one of its most popular residents, four-year-old panda Bei Bei, who arrived in his new home in China today.
Bei bei got on a FedEx truck at around 9:30 a.m. in a travel crate to be transported to Dulles International Airport, after having bamboo and leaf eater biscuits for his “last American breakfast.” The 16-hour nonstop flight started around noon.
The travel crate made of steel and plexiglass was specially manufactured by FedEx for Bei Bei’s trip. It weighs approximately 800 pounds.
He flew on his own Boeing 777F private plane dubbed the “FedEx Panda Express” to Chengdu in China’s Sichuan province, while he listened to a mixed tape of selected songs and was fed his favorite foods throughout his journey.
Laurie Thompson, assistant curator of giant pandas at the National Zoo, and Don Neiffer, chief veterinarian, accompanied Bei Bei during the flight. Thompson has cared for the panda since his birth. The pair continuously monitored him and kept 66 pounds of bamboo, two pounds of apples and pears, two bags of leaf eater biscuits, two pounds of cooked sweet potatoes and water to offer him.
On Sunday, many D.C. residents visited the Zoo to see Bei Bei and take their last photos of him.
🐼 🛬 Bei Bei has arrived safely in China. Our animal care team will go with Bei Bei to his new home and stay with him for a few days at the Bifengxia Panda Base. Thanks to @FedEx and their crew! Thanks for the outpouring of support for Bei Bei ❤️and our panda team! #ByeByeBeiBei pic.twitter.com/rFf9aXZYQc
— National Zoo (@NationalZoo) November 20, 2019
After arriving in Chengdu, he met his keepers at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda, who drove him to Bifengxia Panda Base. He will spend a month in quarantine there. Thompson will also stay with him for a few days.
When he reaches sexual maturity between six and seven years old, Bei Bei will take part in the giant panda breeding program.
Based on a joint 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 Zoo said in an October statement, announcing Bei Bei’s upcoming departure.
Bei Bei was born on August 22, 2015, at the Zoo’s David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat. His name that means “precious” or “treasure” in Chinese was chosen by former First Lady Michelle Obama, and First Lady of the People’s Republic of China, Peng Liyuan.
“Giant pandas are listed as “vulnerable” in the wild by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. There are an estimated 1,800 in the wild. The Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute is a leader in giant panda conservation,” according to the Zoo’s website.