Bei Bei the panda to depart Smithsonian National Zoo for China

Nov. 17 (UPI) — Bei Bei the giant panda will end his four-year stay at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo on Tuesday following a week of celebration.

A panda keeper and a veterinarian will accompany Bei Bei while he travels from Washington, D.C., to Chengdu, China in a dedicated Boeing 777 aircraft provided by FedEx as part of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute’s breeding program with the China Wildlife Conservation Association.

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,” said Steve Monfort, director of the institute.

Beginning on Nov. 11, the zoo has held a series of celebratory events at the zoo and online to mark the end of Bei Bei’s stay, culminating with his departure Tuesday.

All three of the zoo’s giant pandas were given cakes on Saturday and Sunday, and guests were able to make friendship bracelets and write postcards for Bei Bei ahead of his trip.

Bei Bei was born at the Smithsonian National Zoo on Aug. 22 , 2015, to parents Mei Xiang and Tan Tan and celebrated his fourth birthday this year in an event zoo officials described as “bittersweet” amid his looming departure.

“Bei Bei is part of our family,” Monfort said. “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.”

The panda will ride on a nonstop 16-hour flight accompanied by a panda keeper and a veterinarian.

In 2017, Bei Bei’s older sister, Bao Bao, left the National Zoo for China.

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