Bye-bye Bei Bei: Beloved panda leaving the National Zoo
© The National Zoo

The beloved panda Bei Bei will be leaving the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in November, the zoo announced Friday.

The zoo explained in a statement that all panda cubs born at the zoo must go to China when they are 4 years old. The stipulation is part of the zoo’s agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association. Bei Bei marked his fourth birthday Aug. 22.  

“Our giant pandas represent much of what the Smithsonian does best, from conservation to education,” said Lonnie Bunch, secretary of the Smithsonian, in the Friday statement. “As we say goodbye to our beloved Bei Bei, our conservation scientists will continue to work in collaboration to prevent these animals from disappearing, giving them the opportunity to thrive in the wild, inspiring and teaching generations to come.”

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Steve Monfort, director of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, called Bei Bei “part of our family.” 

“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,” Monfort said.

Panda keepers at the zoo are preparing Bei Bei for the move by acclimating him to a travel crate. A team of one panda keeper and one veterinarian will accompany Bei Bei on the trip with his favorite treats: bamboo, apples, pears, carrots, cooked sweet potatoes, biscuits and water.  

Bei Bei will make a new home at a base run by the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda.  

The National Zoo will host a series of online and on-site “Bye Bye, Bei Bei” events to bid him farewell before he leaves the U.S.