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The Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, DC, is home to 2,700 animals representing more than 390 species. However, few are as beloved as giant panda cub Bei Bei, whose progress, from a frail newborn weighing less than a third of a pound to a healthy, 240-pound (109-kg) "toddler," has been eagerly followed by millions of fans both online and on-site. On November 19, 2019, America will bid farewell as its favorite panda cub departs for Chengdu, China, to join a cooperative breeding program to try to save his vulnerable species, which currently numbers just 1,864 specimens in the wild.
Similar to his older siblings Tai Shan and Bao Bao, who left for China in 2010 and 2017 respectively, Bei Bei is the result of a collaboration between the zoo and the China Wildlife Conservation Association. Under the agreement, all offspring of giant pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, both currently living at the National Zoo on loan from the Chinese government, have to be sent for breeding to the Wolong National Nature Reserve in China's Sichuan Province shortly after they turn four. Covering an area of about 50,000 acres in the Qionglai Mountains, the wildlife preserve is home to over 150 giant pandas, as well as other endangered animals such as snow leopards, golden monkeys, red pandas, and white-lipped deer.
Though separating Bei Bei from his parents at such a young age may appear cruel, zoo officials say he is unlikely to miss them. In the wild, giant pandas typically spend between 18 months and two years with their mothers before leaving to lead a solitary life. Zoo-born Bei Bei has followed a similar path and has been living in his own enclosure since early 2017.
The National Zoo officials have begun preparing Bei Bei for his long flight to China by encouraging him to voluntarily enter his travel cage and spend time inside with the door closed. To keep Bei
Fans will get an opportunity to bid farewell to the beloved giant panda by participating in a slew of "Bye Bye Bei Bei " events, from November 11 to November 18, 2019. The online and on-site celebrations, which include Q&A sessions with Bei Bei's keeper, will culminate with a special ice cake for the guest of honor.
“Bei Bei is part of our family,” Steve Monfort, director of the National Zoo, said in a statement. “We’re sad he’s leaving, but excited for the contributions he will make to the global giant panda population.”
Safe travels and good luck Bei Bei!
Resources: Smithsonianmag.com, Washingtontimes.com