Bei Bei’s Big Goodbye: Panda Leaves DC for New Home in China

Bei Bei has landed in Chengdu, China

D.C.'s youngest giant panda is settling into a new life.

Bei Bei, who has spent his entire life at the Smithsonian's National Zoo, took off from Dulles International Airport about 12:15 p.m. Tuesday aboard a special FedEx plane, which is carrying him on a nonstop flight to Chengdu, China. 

After a 16-hour direct flight, Bei Bei landed safely. A panda team will monitored him continuously during the trip, according to the zoo.

All giant panda cubs living at the zoo move to China at age four, due to an agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association. Bei Bei celebrated his fourth birthday in August.

Like most 4-year-olds, Bei Bei will have plenty of snacks for his flight. In his case, that will be bamboo, apples, sweet potatoes, leaf eater biscuits and water.

Bei Bei's big travel day began when he left the zoo shortly before 9 a.m. Tuesday, aboard a truck that brought him to the airport.

The 240-pound panda is travelling in a specially designed crate, to which keepers worked to acclimate him ahead of time.

His new home will be the Bifengxia Panda Base, one of the bases operated by the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda. A keeper from the American team will stay with Bei Bei while he adjusts to his new home.

Bei Bei will join the giant panda breeding program when he is between five and seven years old, according to the National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute.

His departure from the zoo makes his parents empty nesters. Mei Xiang and Tian Tian's two older offspring, Tai Shan and Bao Bao, have also moved to China. However, the National Zoo said Bei Bei won't spend time with his siblings, since pandas are solitary in the wild.

The zoo hosted daily events in the week leading up to Bei Bei's departure and streamed 24/7 footage of Bei Bei on one of their panda cams.

Juliana Valencia and Isabel Paret contributed to this report.

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