Bye-bye, Bao Bao.
One of the National Zoo’s giant pandas, Bao Bao, will go to China in late winter 2017 as part of a breeding agreement the zoo has with a wildlife conservation group there.
Under the agreement, giant pandas born at the zoo in the District are sent to China by their fourth birthday. And Bao Bao, who was born there on Aug. 23, 2013, will turn 4 in 2017.
“Bao Bao is very special to us at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo,” said Brandie Smith, associate director of animal care sciences, in a statement.
Zoo officials said Bao Bao is the “first surviving cub born at the zoo since 2005.”
Smith said in her statement that Bao Bao has “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,” she said.
There will be a public event to “say goodbye and celebrate” before she leaves for China. Details will be released soon.
Bao Bao is the older sister of Bei Bei, the zoo’s baby panda, who turned 1 in the summer.
Bao Bao will be prepared for her travel to China. Zoo officials said they are working to make sure she will be safe and comfortable. She has to get used to being in a crate, which is how she will make the flight.
Zookeepers said a crate will be put in her habitat area so she can get used to it, gradually. Keepers will have her walk through it each day and then acclimate her to staying in it for short periods of time with the door closed. She’ll get treats while she’s in the crate.
For the trip to China, she will have a small entourage of a veterinarian and a panda keeper from the National Zoo. FedEx provides the plane for the flight to Chengdu, China.
Zoo officials said it is best for pandas to fly in the winter when it is cooler. Bao Bao will be closely monitored during the journey and have her favorite treats, such as cooked sweet potatoes, water, apples, pears and bamboo.
She isn’t the first giant panda to fly to China under the zoo’s breeding agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association. In 2010, Tai Shan — Bao Bao’s older brother — flew to China under similar conditions.
Once she gets to China, she will be taken by bus to the conservation center. Her team from the National Zoo will stay for a bit until she adjusts to her new home, zookeepers said. She will enter the giant panda breeding program when she reaches sexual maturity between the ages of 5 and 6.