News & Politics

It May Be Your Last Chance to Say “Bye Bye, Bei Bei”

Catch him before he boards the Panda Express.

Giant panda Bei Bei. Photo courtesy of Smithsonian's National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute.

Bei Bei is on his way out of Washington, but not before a weeklong goodbye bash. A series of “Bye Bye, Bei Bei” events kicks off November 9 at the National Zoo with an exclusive FONZ members event.  Non-members can bid farewell to the city’s cutest cub through November 18.

A zoo favorite for more than four years, Bei Bei is leaving because of an agreement between the zoo and the China Wildlife Conservation Association, that requires all panda cubs to relocate to China at age four. He’ll be grazing through the Bifengxia Panda Base, helping breed future generations of giant pandas who can hopefully live in the wild one day. The zoo, though, is treating it more like an opportunity than a loss.

As part of the festivities, the zoo is rolling out a one-time, all-about-Bei Bei e-newsletter. Then, from November 11 – 18, Panda Cam 1 will keep constant watch over Bei Bei, instead of flipping back and forth among bears—so if you can’t trek down to the zoo, you can watch his final DC days from home (or your office, if you’re sneaky).

Through the 17th, zoo-goers can also head to Bei Bei’s outdoor habitat and drop him a postcard. All of the personalized notes will travel with him to China.

Photo courtesy of Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute.

Every day during the send-off, zoo visitors can also head to the regularly scheduled Q&A session with panda keepers at 11 a.m. There will also be snack times every day with special treats like ice cakes and pumpkin spice. It is a party, after all.

For the panda’s final weekend at the zoo, there will be a party for guests starting at 8:30 a.m. on November 16. The Embassy of China is serving free dumplings, a traditional Chinese farewell food; there will also be complementary hot chocolate Saturday and Sunday.

All weekend long, visitors can also make lucky red knot friendship bracelets, mimicking the one Bei Bei’s mother, Mei Xang, picked for him. (On Bei Bei’s first birthday, several objects were placed in front of Mei Xang, and she picked a red knot, which stands for friendship and luck in Chinese culture. This parallels a Chinese tradition, Zhuazhou, in which a baby chooses one of many objects on his or her first birthday—a ceremony meant to predict the child’s future.) And perhaps there is some luck in Bei Bei’s future: Since that ceremony three years ago, the giant panda population has moved from “endangered” to “vulnerable” status, according to WWF, which is definitely a good sign for the longevity of the species and a direct reflection of wildlife conservation efforts.

Bei Bei’s next stop: Chengdu, China. He apparently won’t be flying coach. On the 18th, he’ll roam around his home habitat one last time, before a forklift moves his crate through the zoo and to a truck that will drive him to Dulles airport. There, he’ll board the FedEx Panda Express, a custom 777F aircraft, and embark on a nonstop trip to his new home.

Aly Prouty
Editorial Fellow

Aly Prouty joined Washingtonian in September 2019. Her work has been featured in Taste of Home, Milwaukee Magazine, Girls’ Life, and more. She graduated from Marquette University and lives in Northern Virginia.