Giant panda Bao Bao, her keeper Marty Dearie and Dr. Katharine Hope landed at China’s Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport around 6:59 p.m. CST Thursday after a 16-hour direct flight aboard the “FedEx Panda Express,” a custom-decaled 777F aircraft.
Bao Bao ate, drank and slept normally during the smooth flight.
“Bao Bao was a real champion during the flight. All the weeks of training and preparation served her really well,” said Marty. “She’s in excellent hands now and I’m glad I get to transition with our Chinese partners and have my ‘goodbye’ in a couple days.”
Upon arrival in Chengdu, Bao Bao’s new keepers from the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda drove her to Dujiangyan Panda Base where she will stay in quarantine for approximately 30 days. Marty will remain with Bao Bao for three days while she acclimates to her new home.
It is not confirmed if Bao Bao will remain at Dujiangyan after the quarantine period has ended. She will enter the giant panda breeding program when she reaches sexual maturity between 5 and 6 years old.
Back in Washington, D.C. at the Zoo, the panda team is looking to the future. Bei Bei is already a year-and-a-half old! Giant panda cubs usually separate from their mothers around 18 months old, and Bei Bei is becoming more independent and confident every day. He is fully recovered from his emergency surgery this winter and is growing like a weed.
Several months ago, zoo officials started seeing the first signs that Mei Xiang was preparing to wean him. She is much less accommodating for nursing sessions, which is normal because Bei Bei has not been nutritionally dependent on Mei Xiang for several months. Any nursing sessions he has are for comfort rather than food. He is 131 pounds now (much larger than Bao Bao was when she weaned from Mei Xiang) and eats nearly 90 pounds of bamboo (along with Mei Xiang) per day, 1/3 pound of apples, 1 pound of biscuits, and a little more than half of a pound of sweet potatoes every day.
Earlier today, keepers gave Mei Xiang and Bei Bei their first opportunity to spend time together in Yard 3, Bao Bao’s old yard. If Bei Bei becomes familiar with this yard while he is still living with Mei Xiang, then his transition to living on his own will be much smoother. Everything went well this morning.
Tian Tian also got a change of scenery today! He has access to both his regular yard and Mei Xiang’s yard which made him a very happy panda. He investigated all of Mei Xiang’s scent marks and did lots of scent-anointing (rubbing her scent all over his head). He appeared to be in a very playful mood acting more like a cub than a 19-year-old bear. He tumbled around the yard and even climbed a few trees!
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