The Smithsonian’s National Zoo will say goodbye to Bao Bao, the giant panda, in 2017 because she has to be sent to China. A cooperative breeding agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association (CWCA) says that all panda cubs born at the Zoo had to move to China when they are four years old. Bao bao will be four on August 23, 2017.

Bao Bao was born in August 2013, and it is the daughter of Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, two giant pandas that are on loan from China. The agreement established that any panda born from the couple has to be sent to China after they reach the age of four.

Bao Bao was born in August 2013, and it is the daughter of Mei Xiang and Tian Tia. Photo credit: Connor Padraic Mallon / The Smithsonian's National Zoo / NPR
Bao Bao was born in August 2013, and it is the daughter of Mei Xiang and Tian Tia. Photo credit: Connor Padraic Mallon / The Smithsonian’s National Zoo / NPR

Tai Shan, Bao Bao’s older brother, was already sent to the Asian country in 2010 with FedEx help. The company will also fly Bao Bao to Chengdu and will make sure the panda has everything she needs. FedEx is also flying a panda keeper and one veterinarian to travel with Bao Bao in her journey from Washington D.C. to the Chinese city.

FedEx also donated and aircraft to bring Bao Bao’s brother to China and their parents Mei Xiang and Tian Tian to the United States in 2000.

The panda team will monitor Bao Bao during the flight because she will be traveling during the colder months and the zoo is concern about keeping her cool. Bao Bao will be spoiled as well: she will go to China with her favorite treats, including apples, pears, cooked sweet potatoes and water, besides bamboo.

Brandie Smith, associate director of animal care sciences, stated that Bao Bao was the first cub born at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo since 2005.

“She’s captured the hearts of people all over the world who watched her grow up on the panda cams, and she has been an ambassador for conservation. We are sad to see her go, but excited for the contributions she is going to continue to make to the giant panda population, ” Smith stated.

Bao Bao has to be trained to make it through the trip without traumas

But before making the trip, the zoo will acclimate the animal to a travel crate to avoid any shocks and make sure Bao Bao is comfortable during her flight. The crate will be put in the David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat so Bao Bao can walk in and off the crate every day. After she gets use to it, the next step is to make her spend short periods of time inside with the door close.

The Zoo will announce a special date to say goodbye to the beloved animal, which, according to Smith, has been “very special” to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo.

Once in Chengdu, Bao Bao’s new keepers will get her to one of the bases run by the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda (CCRCGP). According to the D.C. based Zoo, someone from the panda team will stay with Bao Bao until she adapts to her new home. After that, Bao Bao will be part of the giant panda breeding program, although she has to reach sexual maturity before, which happens for pandas when they are between 5 or 6 years old.

Giant pandas are considered “vulnerable” in the wild by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. There are an estimated 1,800 in the wild, says Smithsonian’s National Zoo.

Source: The Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute