D.C.’s National Zoo is no longer Bei Bei’s home.
The much-adored giant panda bid adieu to the United States and departed for China on Tuesday, but not before taking part in one last Washingtonian tradition: The trek to Dulles International Airport.
Bei Bei’s crate was loaded into a FedEx truck around 9:30 a.m., beginning his daylong journey to Chengdu in China’s Sichuan province, WTOP’s Melissa Howell reported. FedEx said in a statement that Bei Bei enjoyed his last “American breakfast” of bamboo and leafeater biscuits before heading out.
The 4-year-old panda has a 16-hour nonstop flight from Dulles on a custom-painted Boeing 777 freight plane and departed around noon. He’s flying inside a specialized travel crate made of steel and plexiglass, together with his favorite toys and treats, including 66 pounds of bamboo and a hearty portion of apples, pears and sweet potatoes.
Accompanying Bei Bei on his flight to the other side of the world is Laurie Thompson, the panda’s caretaker, and National Zoo chief veterinarian Don Neiffer.
American zookeepers will work with their Chinese counterparts once the plane lands to ensure Bei Bei comfortably adjusts to his new environment, the National Zoo said.
Bei Bei will eventually enter China’s giant panda breeding program in partnership with the China Wildlife Conservation Association. With a global population of less than 2,000, the giant panda — once common in China’s central mountain ranges — is considered a vulnerable species.
“From the second he was born, we knew he would be going to China,” said Brandi Smith, deputy director at the National Zoo. “Bei Bei is a success; he’s another panda on the planet, and all of this love and attention he’s getting are a great thing.”
Visitors flocked to Bei Bei’s enclosure for a farewell on Sunday, snapping their last photos of Bei Bei munching on bamboo and a celebratory ice cake.
WTOP reporters followed Bei Bei’s departure from the zoo to the airport. Check out the photos and videos from throughout the day, and follow our liveblog.