Americans Say Bye-Bye to Bei Bei the Panda

Goodbye, Bei Bei! The giant panda Americans watched grow over the past four years has left the Smithsonian National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute in Washington, D.C., for China.

Bei Bei is heading overseas as part of a cooperative breeding agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association. All cubs born at the zoo go to China when they turn 4 years old.

“Our giant pandas represent much of what the Smithsonian does best, from conservation to education,” said Lonnie Bunch, secretary of the Smithsonian, in a 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.”

The video above was a live stream from the Smithsonian of Bei Bei leaving Tuesday morning. The giant panda went from his habitat to a FedEx plane (more on that later).

While it's sad to see the giant panda leave, it's fun to reflect on the four years he spent in the United States. He was born at the zoo on Aug. 22, 2015.

Since then, we've seen Bei Bei walk his first steps, experience snow for the first time and many other adorable but educational moments.

“Bei Bei is part of our family,” said Steve Monfort, the John and Adrienne Mars director of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. “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.”

Over the past several weeks, keepers have been getting Bei Bei used to the travel crate he will use during his flight to China.

FedEx provided Bei Bei, his keepers and veterinarians a Boeing 777F going non-stop to Chengdu. In the video below, you can see they decorated it with a "Panda Express" plane wrap for the occasion.

When Bei Bei reaches new home, an American team will help him get acclimated in China. They will prepare him for the giant panda breeding program, as he reaches reach sexual maturity between 5 and 7 years old.

Giant pandas are listed as "vulnerable" in the wild. Conservation programs like these keep their species alive. There are only an estimated 1,800 giant pandas left in the wild.