Washington’s Bao Bao gets long bye-bye
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.”
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.