The beloved four-year-old ball of black and white fur is headed home for China. On November 19th, Bei Bei is leaving the National Zoo. It really is true–they grow up so fast! He was born on August 22nd, 2015 at the National Zoo in Washington DC. The cub was welcomed with open arms (or rather, paws), as he was introduced to his new family.
Attention grew as Mei Xiang, Bei Bei’s mother, gave birth to the 4.8 ounce cub. He was soon to be named Bei Bei by Michelle Obama and Peng Liyuan, the First Ladies of the United States and the People’s Republic of China. The name appropriately translates to “precious treasure”. It’s hard to believe that four years later, that little cub grew up to be just about 264 pounds. Much of the public has enjoyed watching him climb trees, and tumble downhill in the snow. He became very popular among zoo visitors, attracting about two million visitors a year.
The United States has been receiving pandas from China ever since President Nixon’s trip back in 1972. By giving its national animal to foreign countries, China’s shows gratitude to its allies in the form of a goodwill gesture. In the 1980s however, China started putting a price on the pandas, loaning them for $50,000 per month. The total cost of keeping a panda for four years is about 2.4 million dollars. This high price is worth it for the zoo, because many tourists from the country and all over the world come to specifically see the giant pandas. If there is a baby panda in the house, the number of visitors can surely be multiplied.
As Bei Bei’s departure grows closer, more visitors arrive at the zoo to bid him goodbye. The National Zoo tweeted: “We are officially bidding a bitter-sweet farewell to #BeiBei! He will move to China on Nov. 19.” Bei Bei will board a FedEx airplane on a nonstop flight to China, where he will be taken to a sanctuary with lots of other pandas to play with–but he will be sorely missed in the nation’s capital.