November 19, 2019 | 12: 23pm
Bon voyage Bei Bei!
The giant, beloved 4-year-old panda departed his home at Smithsonian’s National Zoo Tuesday for a new life in China.
Bei Bei – after chomping down on his last American breakfast of bamboo and biscuits – left the zoo where he has spent his entire life at 9: 30 a.m. for Dulles International Airport in Virginia.
From there the animal will board the “FedEx Panda Express” – a custom-decaled FedEx 777F plane for a 16-hour flight to Chengdu, China.
“Today is bittersweet,” Steve Monfort, the director of Smithsonian’s National Zoo, which held a send-off for the animal before his departure. “We’ve cared for Bei Bei, and along with millions, watched him grow into a true ambassador for his species.”
Zoo officials will make the 8,508-mile trip with Bei Bei and have a supply of his favorite treats on hand, including 66 pounds of bamboo, two pounds of apples and pears, and two pounds of cooked sweet potatoes.
Bei Bei will spend the next chapter of his life in a breeding program in China.
Upon arrival in Chengdu, Bei Bei’s new keepers from the China Conversation and Research Center for the Giant Panda will meet him on the tarmac and drive him to Bifengxia Panda Base where he will stay in quarantine for about 30 days.
Bei Bei will enter the giant panda breeding program when he reaches sexual maturity between 6 and 7-years-old.
Giant pandas are listed as “vulnerable” in the wild by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.