Bao Bao to say bye-bye to US

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

It might be a dif­fi­cult few months ahead for panda fans in Wash­ing­ton after the Smith­so­nian’s Na­tional Zoo an­nounced on Thurs­day that gi­ant panda Bao Bao will be leav­ing for China some­time in early 2017.

As part of the co­op­er­a­tive breed­ing agree­ment be­tween the zoo and the China Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion As­so­ci­a­tion, all cubs born at the zoo move to China when they are 4 years old. Bao Bao turns 4 on Aug 23, 2017.

Bao Bao was strolling in her yard at noon on Thurs­day when a zookeeper called her by name and threw an ap­ple juice pop­si­cle to her. Tak­ing her time, she found the treat and started to suck on it ca­su­ally in the sun, de­light­ing a large crowd of vis­i­tors.

The zoo will an­nounce spe­cial op­por­tu­ni­ties for the pub­lic to say good­bye and cel­e­brate Bao Bao be­fore she leaves for China.

“Bao Bao is very spe­cial to us at the Smith­so­nian’s Na­tional Zoo,” said Brandie Smith, as­so­ciate di­rec­tor of an­i­mal care sci­ences at the zoo. “She was the first sur­viv­ing cub born at the zoo since 2005. She’s cap­tured the hearts of peo­ple all over the world who watched her grow up on the panda cams, and she has been an am­bas­sador for con­ser­va­tion. We are sad to see her go, but ex­cited for the con­tri­bu­tions she is go­ing to con­tinue to make to the global gi­ant panda pop­u­la­tion.”

Six-year-old John Jack­son of Wash­ing­ton was on a field trip to the zoo on Thurs­day. After learn­ing that Bao Bao was leav­ing in a few months, the boy said he will miss her.

Kat Torre, a teenager visit­ing from Los An­ge­les, said it was a good thing that Bao Bao was re­turn­ing to her orig­i­nal home in China. “They are here tem­po­rar­ily to ed­u­cate peo­ple about them,” she said.

Smith, who has worked at the zoo for more than eight years, de­scribed Bao Bao as al­ways be­ing very in­de­pen­dent. “We no­ticed that when she was just lit­tle cub. She likes to do things on her own. She wasn’t very in­ter­ac­tive with her keep­ers,” she said.

She said it was es­pe­cially true in com­par­i­son with her lit­tle brother Bei Bei. “Bei Bei loves his keep­ers. He loves in­ter­act­ing with them, kind of play with them through the mesh,” Smith said of the 14-month-old cub.

Both cubs re­ceived spe­cial at­ten­tion from the first ladies of China and the US, Peng Liyuan and Michelle Obama.

When Bao Bao was named 100 days after her birth, the two first ladies sent con­grat­u­la­tory mes­sages through videos. They also vis­ited the zoo in Septem­ber of 2015 and named the newly born cub Bei Bei. Last Au­gust, they sent mes­sages on Bei Bei’s first birth­day.

To make sure Bao Bao is com­fort­able and safe on her up­com­ing jour­ney, panda keep­ers are al­ready get­ting her ready.

Her travel crate will be placed in the habi­tat and at first, keep­ers will get Bao Bao to walk through it ev­ery day. After she has got­ten used to walk­ing through it, they will ac­cli­mate her to spend­ing short pe­ri­ods of time in it with the door closed and the keep­ers of­fer­ing her treats.

When Bao Bao de­parts for China, she will be ac­com­pa­nied by one panda keeper and one vet­eri­nar­ian in a FedEx flight from Wash­ing­ton to the south­west­ern China city of Chengdu.

Bao Bao will en­ter the gi­ant panda breed­ing pro­gram when she reaches sex­ual ma­tu­rity be­tween 5 and 6 years old.

Smith de­scribed the gi­ant panda fa­cil­i­ties in China as “spec­tac­u­lar” and “won­der­ful”.

“So we are ex­cited for her to go there,” she said, adding that the bam­boo in China is in­cred­i­ble and Bao Bao will be happy when she gets her first taste of it. Tais­han, the gi­ant panda who re­turned to China from the Na­tional Zoo in 2010, has ad­justed very well in China.

Smith said one of the best things about the breed­ing pro­gram is “how closely we work with our col­leagues in China and the great re­la­tion­ship that we’ve de­vel­oped and how we share in­for­ma­tion back and forth.”

“It has been re­ally a priv­i­lege to be part of the panda pro­gram,” she said.

Smith ac­knowl­edged how much she and vis­i­tors will miss Bao Bao, but she said it was like par­ents see­ing kids go­ing off to col­lege.

“Ev­ery con­cerned par­ent sym­pa­thizes with this, right? It’s a hard thing to do. You don’t want them to go. But you know it’s the best thing for them be­cause they have to grow up and grow up on their own, and start their own fam­i­lies,” she said.

“That’s what Bao Bao is do­ing. She is grow­ing up and she is go­ing to have her own fam­ily and pro­duce more pan­das,” she said.

Gi­ant pan­das were pre­vi­ously listed as an en­dan­gered species but changed to “vul­ner­a­ble” sta­tus in the wild a few months ago by the In­ter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture. There are an es­ti­mated 1,800 gi­ant in the wild.

Prior to Bao Bao’s de­par­ture, gi­ant panda twins Mei Lun and Mei Huan at Zoo At­lanta in Ge­or­gia will leave for China next month. The first US-born sur­viv­ing pair of gi­ant panda twins will be de­part­ing for the Chengdu Re­search Base of Gi­ant Panda Breed­ing in China.

Four US zoos — in Wash­ing­ton, At­lanta, Mem­phis and San Diego — now house gi­ant pan­das.

CHEN WEIHUA/CHINA DAILY

Gi­ant panda Bao Bao

plays in her yard at Smith­so­nian’s Na­tional Zoo on Thurs­day. She will be re­turned to China in the first few months of 2017, the zoo an­nounced.

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