Bye-bye, Bao Bao.
The National Zoo said Wednesday that it is preparing for the departure to China of its female giant panda cub, Bao Bao.
Bao Bao created a sensation at the zoo when she was born there Aug. 23, 2013 — then the first cub to survive birth at the zoo since 2005.
“As part of the Zoo’s cooperative long-term breeding agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association, all cubs born at the Zoo move to China by the time they turn 4 years old,” the zoo said in a statement.
China owns all giant pandas in U.S. zoos and requires that cubs born here be sent “home” about the time they reach breeding age.
Bao Bao will turn 4 this year.
“She’s captured the hearts of people all over the world who watched her grow up on the panda cams,” said Brandie Smith, associate director of animal care sciences, according to the statement.
“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,” she said.
Bao Bao has been living apart from her mother, Mei Xiang, since March 2015. Giant pandas are solitary in the wild, and cubs separate from their mothers to establish their own territories between 18 months and 2 years old, the statement said.
The zoo plans a series of farewell events. The panda is scheduled to be flown to China in a few weeks. The zoo has not said exactly when.
Bao Bao’s trip to China will come seven years after the zoo’s beloved giant panda Tai Shan made the same trip in February 2010.
Tai Shan was born at the zoo July 9, 2005, and was, then, the only giant panda born there to survive beyond infancy.
Bao Bao has since been joined at the zoo by Bei Bei, a male giant panda born there on Aug. 22, 2015.