National Zoo grateful for its time with Bao Bao

Juan Rodriguez, who was one of Bao Bao's primary caretakers when she was born, fondly remembers his days with the panda. (WTOP/Kristi King)
Juan Rodriguez, who was one of Bao Bao’s primary caretakers when she was born, fondly remembers his days with the panda. (WTOP/Kristi King)

(WTOP/Kristi King)
(WTOP/Kristi King)
A special cargo plane carrying the National Zoo's giant panda Bao Bao departs from Dulles International Airport on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. The flight will travel 16 hours to Chengdu, China. (Courtesy NBC Washington)
A special cargo plane carrying the National Zoo’s giant panda Bao Bao departs from Dulles International Airport on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. The flight will travel 16 hours to Chengdu, China. (Courtesy NBC Washington)

Giant panda Bao Bao travels by a FedEx truck to Dulles International Airport, where she will board a cargo plane bound for China on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. (Courtesy NBC Washington)
Giant panda Bao Bao travels by a FedEx truck to Dulles International Airport, where she will board a cargo plane bound for China on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. (Courtesy NBC Washington)

Chinese Ambassador Cui Tiankai accepts postcards and wellwishes for Bao Bao at the National Zoo on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. The giant panda, born at the zoo in 2013, is heading to China where she wil eventually join a breeding program. (WTOP/Nick Iannelli)
Chinese Ambassador Cui Tiankai accepts postcards and wellwishes for Bao Bao at the National Zoo on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. The giant panda, born at the zoo in 2013, is heading to China where she will eventually join a breeding program. (WTOP/Nick Iannelli)

Giant panda Bao Bao enjoys some bamboo during her final hours at the National Zoo. She was set to depart for China on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. (WTOP/Ginger Whitaker)
Giant panda Bao Bao enjoys some bamboo during her final hours at the National Zoo. She was set to depart for China on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. (WTOP/Ginger Whitaker)

Giant panda Bao Bao enjoys some bamboo during her final hours at the National Zoo. She was set to depart for China on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. (WTOP/Ginger Whitaker)
Giant panda Bao Bao enjoys some bamboo during her final hours at the National Zoo. She was set to depart for China on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. (WTOP/Ginger Whitaker)

Bao Bao gazes off into her future. (WTOP/Jamie Forzato)
Bao Bao gazes off into her future. (WTOP/Jamie Forzato)

Bao Bao
Bao Bao has the distinction of being the first surviving cub born at the zoo since 2005. (Courtesy National Zoo)

Animal keepers wave goodbye to Bao Bao, the beloved 3-year-old panda at the National Zoo in Washington, as she leaves on a one-way flight to China to join a panda breeding program, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Animal keepers wave goodbye to Bao Bao, the beloved 3-year-old panda at the National Zoo in Washington, as she leaves on a one-way flight to China to join a panda breeding program, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017.

Animal keepers watch as Bao Bao, the beloved 3-year-old panda at the National Zoo in Washington, is loaded into a truck as she leaves on a one-way flight to China to join a panda breeding program, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Animal keepers watch as Bao Bao, the beloved 3-year-old panda at the National Zoo in Washington, is loaded into a truck as she leaves on a one-way flight to China to join a panda breeding program, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017.

(1/12)
Juan Rodriguez, who was one of Bao Bao's primary caretakers when she was born, fondly remembers his days with the panda. (WTOP/Kristi King)
A special cargo plane carrying the National Zoo's giant panda Bao Bao departs from Dulles International Airport on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. The flight will travel 16 hours to Chengdu, China. (Courtesy NBC Washington)
Giant panda Bao Bao travels by a FedEx truck to Dulles International Airport, where she will board a cargo plane bound for China on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. (Courtesy NBC Washington)
Chinese Ambassador Cui Tiankai accepts postcards and wellwishes for Bao Bao at the National Zoo on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. The giant panda, born at the zoo in 2013, is heading to China where she wil eventually join a breeding program. (WTOP/Nick Iannelli)
Giant panda Bao Bao enjoys some bamboo during her final hours at the National Zoo. She was set to depart for China on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. (WTOP/Ginger Whitaker)
Giant panda Bao Bao enjoys some bamboo during her final hours at the National Zoo. She was set to depart for China on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. (WTOP/Ginger Whitaker)
Bao Bao gazes off into her future. (WTOP/Jamie Forzato)
Bao Bao
Animal keepers wave goodbye to Bao Bao, the beloved 3-year-old panda at the National Zoo in Washington, as she leaves on a one-way flight to China to join a panda breeding program, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Animal keepers watch as Bao Bao, the beloved 3-year-old panda at the National Zoo in Washington, is loaded into a truck as she leaves on a one-way flight to China to join a panda breeding program, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
February 22, 2017 | Bao Bao was a rock star on Day One (Jack Pointer)

WASHINGTON — Giant panda Bao Bao’s departure from National Zoo is a great loss to many local panda fans, in part because her arrival was such a surprise in the first place.

For a long time, the fertility of National Zoo’s panda mom Mei Xiang was in question.

“We’re talking from 2005 all the way to 2013 — so, a long time,” said Juan Rodriguez, who was one of Bao Bao’s primary caretakers when she was born.

After her first cub, Tai Shan, mother Mei Xiang had numbers of pseudo-pregnancies in addition to having a cub that died.

“We just figured: ‘You know what? Tai Shan might have been the only baby (Mei Xiang) ever was going to have,’” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez, who now is curator of carnivores at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, fondly remembers days with the young panda. Bao Bao, he said, is truly a “precious treasure,” which is what her name means in Mandarin.

“And she is, like a lot of folks consider her, a miracle baby,” Rodriguez added.


Bao Bao was already a National Zoo celebrity the day she was born.

“We were able to broadcast. We saw the water break. We knew (the birth) was imminent,” said the zoo’s Pamela Baker-Masson. “People from around the world tuned in so they watched her being born live on our panda cam.”

The panda’s appeal, Baker-Masson said, goes beyond D.C. and even beyond the country.

“She has this international following as well,” she said. “It’s, I think, one of the things that makes her special.”


Like WTOP on Facebook and follow @WTOP on Twitter to engage in conversation about this article and others.

© 2017 WTOP. All Rights Reserved.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up