National Zoo's Giant Panda Bringing His Favorite Snacks Along for Private Flight to China
The National Zoo has said goodbye to one of its most beloved residents, Bei Bei the giant panda.
Bei Bei, whose name means "precious, treasure" in Mandarin Chinese, weighed just 4.8 ounces when he was born in August 2015. Now, like his siblings Bao Bao and Tian Shan before him, the 240-pound four-year-old is headed to his new home in China.
Like the majority of captive pandas around the world, Bei Bei is on temporary loan to the National Zoo from the Chinese government. As part of the Zoo's cooperative breeding agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association, all cubs born at the Zoo move to China when they are four years old.
Bei Bei, who departed early this morning, is traveling in style for the 15-hour journey. The black-and-white bear will be flying the 8,500 miles from Washington, DC, to Chengdu, China, in a specially decaled 777F courtesy of FedEx. That's right: a private panda plane.
The precious panda is accompanied by one panda keeper, one veterinarian as well as 66 pounds of bamboo, two pounds of apples and pears, two bags of leafeater biscuits, and two pounds of cooked sweet potatoes and water.
With an estimated 1,800 in the wild, giant pandas are listed as "vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. With help from the National Zoo, scientists in China are working to reintroduce giant pandas to the wild.
Upon arrival in Chengdu, Bei Bei will be transported to one of the bases run by the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda. He will enter their breeding program when he reaches sexual maturity between five and seven years old.
WATCH: There's An Incredible Organization In Alabama That Rescues & Protects Animals
"Bei Bei is part of our family," Steve Monfort, John and Adrienne Mars director of the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, said in a news release "Our team has cared for him, learned from him and, along with millions, loved watching him grow. We're sad he's leaving, but excited for the contributions he will make to the global giant panda population. Bei Bei is an ambassador for conservation and part of a 47-year program that proves bringing species and habitats back from the brink is possible through global cooperation."
Bon voyage, Bei Bei!