The playful panda cub Bao Bao is leaving the National Zoo for China early next year, zoo officials announced Thursday. As part of a breeding agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association, all giant pandas born at the Washington zoo move to China by the time they turn 4.
Bao Bao will celebrate her fourth birthday August 23.
“Bao Bao is very special to us at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo,” Brandie Smith, associate director of animal care sciences, said in a statement. “She was the first surviving cub born at the Zoo since 2005.”
“We are sad to see her go,” she added, “but excited for the contributions she is going to continue to make to the global giant panda population.”
Bao Bao will fly FedEx to Chengdu, in southwestern China, in the first several months of 2017. The zoo said that she was leaving so early in the year because it is better for pandas to travel in the winter months, when it isn’t hot.
From Chengdu, Bao Bao will be driven to a base run by the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda, where she will be part of a breeding program that aims to increase the wild panda population. The International Union for Conservation of Nature recently took the giant panda off the endangered species list and classified it as “vulnerable,” estimating that there are about 1,860 pandas in the wild.
Bao Bao’s older brother, Tai Shan, moved to China in 2010.
With Bao Bao’s departure, the zoo will be down to three pandas: Bao Bao’s mom and dad, Mei Xiang (may-SHONG) and Tian Tian (t-YEN t-YEN), and her younger brother, Bei Bei, who was born in August 2015.
The zoo said that special opportunities for visitors to say goodbye to Bao Bao will be announced soon. For now, we’re left to replay a video of her having fun in the snow.