- The Washington Times - Monday, November 11, 2019

The Smithsonian’s National Zoo is saying bye bye to Bei Bei next week, as the 4-year-old giant panda prepares to be flown to China.

However, sending a panda halfway around the world isn’t as simple as buying him a plane ticket and getting him an aisle seat. It takes a lot of planning — and bamboo.

Bei Bei departs Nov. 19 from Washington Dulles International Airport for a 16-hour, nonstop flight on a Boeing 777 jetliner to Chengdu, China, where he will join a base run by the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda.

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Bei Bei is relocating to China as a part of an agreement between the National Zoo and the China Wildlife Conservation Association: All panda cubs born at the National Zoo move to China when they are 4 years old.

Bei Bei is part of our family,” Steve Monfort, director of the zoo’s conservation program, said in a press release. “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,” he said.

Zoo personnel are preparing Bei Bei for the move by acclimating him to the crate in which he will travel, walking him through it every day and locking him in it for extended periods.

Bei Bei will travel with 66 pounds of bamboo, 2 pounds of apples and pears, 2 pounds of cooked sweet potatoes, biscuits and water and with a zookeeper and a veterinarian.

The jetliner also is outfitted with a custom steel and Plexiglas enclosure so he will be comfortable throughout the flight, according to a spokesperson from FedEx.

FedEx, which is orchestrating the transport and donating the transportation services, enlisted a highly specialized team that is trained in exotic “animal aviation” for this mission.

The team organizing the trip consists of Dave Lange, managing director for FedEx charters, and John Hunt, captain of the FedEx Boeing 777 fleet — and this is not their first FedEx Panda Express flight. Mr. Lange helped transport Bei Bei’s brother, sister and parents — as well as an 800-pound polar bear, a sea lion and the skeleton of a 65-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex.

Once Bei Bei reaches the age of sexual maturation, between 5 and 7 years old, he will join a panda breeding program in China.

Although giant pandas are no longer endangered, the International Union for Conservation of Nature assessed the species as “vulnerable” in 2016 and noted that the population is increasing. There are an estimated 1,800 pandas in the wild.

The National Zoo is hosting a number of events to say goodbye to Bei Bei, such as a question-and-answer session with a panda specialist and scheduled feedings for visitors to watch Bei Bei in person or on the panda cam.



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