WASHINGTON, DC — The Smithsonian National Zoo is losing one of its giant pandas, as Bei Bei is scheduled to department for China on Tuesday, Nov. 19, as part of the zoo’s longstanding agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association.
Under the agreement, all cubs born at the zoo must move to China when they are 4 years old, an age Bei Bei reached on Aug. 22.
“Our giant pandas represent much of what the Smithsonian does best, from conservation to education,” said Lonnie Bunch, Secretary of the Smithsonian, in a 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.”
Panda keepers are hard at work to prepare him for the move, which includes acclimating him to the travel crate in order to minimize stress on his journey.
One panda keeper and one veterinarian will accompany Bei Bei on his trip. They will ride in a dedicated FedEx B777 aircraft to Chengdu, China.
From Nov. 11-18, the zoo will hold an online and on-site series of “Bye Bye, Bei Bei” celebratory events, and details will be posted to the website soon, the statement reads.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists giant pandas as “vulnerable” in the wild, with an estimated 1,800 individuals. Scientists at the National Zoo and in China are studying panda reproduction and health, and are working to reintroduce these pandas into the wild.
“Bei Bei is part of our family,” Steve Monfort, John and Adrienne Mars director of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, said in the statement. “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.”