Bei Bei the panda bear has become quite the icon in the U.S. national zoo scene. Bei Bei has spent his first four years of life at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington D.C. and became a huge spectacle when his birth occurred. The birth of any animal in the national zoo system often becomes an event for onlookers, especially in regards to endangered species and conservation efforts. In 2000, the Smithsonian National Zoo acquired two pandas from China, whose names were Mei Xiang and Tian Tian. According to USA Today, those pandas gave birth to three healthy cubs throughout the past ten years, all of which got national attention. Tai Shan was the first born in 2005, then came Bao Bao in 2013, and finally beloved Bei Bei in 2015. As an agreement with Chinese conservation officials who brought the parents to the U.S., all cubs born here in zoo captivity are required to return to China after they turn four years old.
“The pandas take part in a breeding program to boost their population. For decades, the species was considered “endangered” and only recently was recategorized as “vulnerable” by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Conservation and research efforts by the zoo and its partners in China have helped boost the species numbers, and Bei Bei moving to China to breed once he becomes sexually mature in a couple years will further these efforts, the zoo says,” USA Today reports.
Bei Bei’s parents also still remain at the Smithsonian, however, they are also expected to make the 15 hour journey back home next year. Once that occurs there will be another meeting with the Chinese Conservation officials about future plans of the breeding and research program. The plan for Bei Bei’s travels will mirror that of his two older siblings when they made the journey back to China. The process was meticulously planned out over the last two months and involved over 100 individuals from both America and China. According to USA Today, Bei Bei will be transported from the zoo in D.C. to Dulles International Airport in Virginia, and from there he will be flown on a non-stop 15 hour flight to Chengdu, China. Bei Bei will be travelling via FedEx on a Boeing 777 Freighter aircraft (the same size as a standard commercial flight but specifically designed to carry precious cargo) which is the same type of plane his siblings took, giving it the nickname the “FedEx Panda Express.”
Their number one concern is making the process as easy and stress-free for Bei Bei as possible, he will be kept in a crate that’s 55 inches wide, 75 inches long, and 50 inches tall, plenty of room for the 240 pound bear (USA).
“I can’t say it’s another day at FedEx because it is special and it takes a special focus. We understand the importance of it and what it means to people in the U.S. and China.On the flight, Bei Bei will have bamboo, apples, sweet potatoes and other treats. He will also be accompanied by his primary caretaker and a veterinarian for the whole time. Zoo keepers have recently been acclimating him to his travel crate, as well, so he will be comfortable on the long trip,” says Dave Lange, managing director of FedEx’s charters department.
Once landed in China, Bei Bei will be transported to his new home at the Bifengxia Panda Base, run and operated by the China Conservation and Research Center for Panda’s. Once there Bei Bei will begin acclimating to his new enclosure and begin his life safely repopulating. For the past week fans from all over the country have come to say their goodbyes to Bei Bei. Not only are pandas adorable, but the ones that we exploit for conservation purposes induces a totally different response within humans. We want to see our planet and all of its beings thrive, especially the big fluffy ones, so when we have access to a certain population of that species that we know is being protected and used for conservation purposes, we just want to do our part. The WWF has worked with conservation efforts between China and the U.S. and has allowed an “adoption” program for these animals in which civilians can donate to support a specific animal, and then be kept updated on their travels and growth into adulthood.
Bei Bei was truly one of a kind, and as the last panda in the U.S. that was a part of this program (for now), he maintained a high level of status amongst his fans, and he will truly be missed in D.C., but he’s going on to bigger and better things back in his true home.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.