Zoo prepares to say bye-bye to Bao Bao

Officials at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington prepare giant panda Bao Bao for her trip to China.

WASHINGTON, D.C., UNITED STATES (FEBRUARY 15, 2017) (REUTERS) – Giant panda Bao Bao will leave the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. next week and move to China under a breeding agreement and officials at the Smithsonian National Zoo are preparing her for the long journey.

Bao Bao, a three-year-old female, who was the first surviving cub born at Smithsonian’s National Zoo since 2005, has enchanted zoo visitors and others who watched her via live “panda cam” footage. She will enter the breeding program for giant pandas under an arrangement between the zoo and the China Wildlife Conservation Association that says all cubs born at the U.S. national zoo must move to China by the time they turn four-years-old.

Upon arrival in Chengdu, China she will travel to a facility run by the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda, accompanied by one keeper and one veterinarian from the National Zoo, officials in Washington said.

The zoo’s panda team will continuously monitor Bao Bao during the trip and will travel with a supply of her favorite treats, including bamboo, apples, pears, cooked sweet potatoes and water.

Brandie Smith, associate director of animal care at the zoo told Reuters the staff at the zoo they are happy for Bao Bao to begin her new life in China.

“We know before they are born that they’re going to be going to China to be part of their breeding program. So we pretty much prepare ourselves for it for their entire life. But knowing that she’s going to go there she’ll have cubs of her own. It’s hard to be sad because we’re so happy for her” said Smith.

Bao Bao must reach sexual maturity, between the ages of five and six years old, before entering the breeding program, the zoo said, and by then she will have acclimated to her new home.

Bao Bao’s panda keeper Marty Dearie says he has been working to acclimate her for the long trip to China on February 21 in a customized shipping crate.

“The calmer that she is on the day of the move the better. Obviously when she gets put into the truck or put onto the plane I’m sure she’s going to be nervous about some of that, but knowing her personality she’ll get over it pretty quickly and once she’s being fed she’s going to be pretty happy” Dearie told Reuters.

There are an estimated 1,800 giant pandas in the wild, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which classes them as “vulnerable.”

Her brother, Tai Shan, was sent to China in 2010.