Wash­ing­ton’s Bao Bao gets long bye-bye

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By CHEN WEIHUA in Wash­ing­ton chen­wei­hua@chi­nadai­lyusa. com

It was sunny and the mer­cury hit 59 de­grees Wed­nes­day noon as gi­ant panda Bao Bao at the Smith­so­nian’s Na­tional Zoo sat on a tree branch in his yard rub­bing his butt and draw­ing laugh­ter from the crowds.

Im­me­di­ately next door, two other gi­ant pan­das, Mei Xiang and her 17-month-old cub Bei Bei, were also putting on a show — with Mei Xiang tak­ing a stroll as Bei Bei lounged in the grass. In an­other yard, fa­ther Tian Tian hung up­side down from a tree.

The zoo an­nounced in Oc­to­ber that Bao Bao would re­turn to China some­time this winter. Now it has an­nounced farewell cel­e­bra­tion events for fans from Feb 16-20. They in­clude 24/7 we­b­cams, so­cial me­dia events on In­sta­gram, Face­book and Twit­ter rang­ing from post­ing farewell mes­sages and in­ter­act­ing with gi­ant panda bi­ol­o­gists to a farewell ice cake and a down­load­able keep­sake.

All gi­ant panda cubs born at the zoo are moved to China be­fore turn­ing 4 years old to take part in breed­ing pro­grams to help keep the pop­u­la­tion’s gene pool di­verse, the zoo said.

Bao Bao was born on Aug 23, 2013, be­com­ing the first cub to sur­vive birth at the Na­tional Zoo since 2005. Chi­nese first lady Peng Liyuan and then US first lady Michelle Obama sent a joint video mes­sage to Bao Bao’s nam­ing cer­e­mony when he turned 100 days old.

A zoo spokesman on Wed­nes­day said the de­par­ture would be some time in late winter.

When Tais­han, who was born at the zoo on July 9, 2005, was re­turned to China in Fe­bru­ary 2010, it was a sad day for many fans.

On Wed­nes­day, Nancy Con­nors, a Wash­ing­to­nian, was watch­ing Bao Bao play in the yard and munch on his sug­ar­cane treats. “I’m a lit­tle sad be­cause I have fine mem­o­ries of com­ing here with dif­fer­ent peo­ple to see him, but I’m happy for him be­cause he’ll get to be some­where new,” she said.

“If you are send­ing your child off, you hope he makes new friends, and gets along with ev­ery­body else,” she added.

Thomas Cad­walader, from Bal­ti­more, said he felt sad, but learn­ing that the de­par­ture was for breed­ing pur­poses, he said. “Good for him.”

CHEN WEIHUA / CHINA DAILY

Gi­ant panda Bao Bao eats sugar cane in the yard in the Smith­so­nian’s Na­tional Zoo in Wash­ing­ton on Wed­nes­day. Bao Bao is ex­pected to re­turn to China in late winter.

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