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It’s Official: Bei Bei Is Leaving the National Zoo

The beloved giant panda will move to China on November 19.

Photograph by Skip Brown via Smithsonian's National Zoo.

Bei Bei’s trip to China is officially booked. The National Zoo announced today that the giant panda will head overseas on November 19 to his new home at Bifengxia Panda Base, which is operated by the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda.

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

Luckily, between November 11 and 18, the zoo will host plenty of special “Bye Bye, Bei Bei” events, so Washingtonians can bid the city’s beloved bear farewell. They include Q&A sessions with panda keepers, postcard stations, and opportunities to watch while staff feeds Bei Bei his favorite treats, giving him a sweet send-off.

Word spread this summer that Bei Bei might not be in DC for long, though it was unclear when he’d be leaving. According to the Smithsonian, his departure is part of a deal with China that any panda born to Bei Bei’s parents, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, who will remain at the zoo, must move to China after turning four years old, for research purposes and breeding. Pandas are classified as a “vulnerable” species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and the best way for Bei Bei to help his fellow pandas is to successfully breed in China.

Bei Bei’s older brother and sister, Tai Shan and Bao Bao, also left the nest and moved to China when they reached his age in 2010 and 2017, respectively. But because pandas live in solitude as adults, and, as siblings, Bao Bao and Bei Bei are not recommended to breed, it’s unlikely they’ll cross paths.

And, Bei Bei fans might not have to say goodbye completely: A decision hasn’t yet been made, but there’s a chance Bei Bei will have a webcam in China, too.

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Nathan Diller
Editorial Fellow

Nathan is an editorial fellow at Washingtonian. Originally from Nashville, he graduated from Columbia Journalism School with a master’s degree in 2019. His work has also appeared in SPIN, NYLON, and Nashville Lifestyles.