Say goodbye to Bei Bei.
The 4-year-old panda will leave the National Zoo and D.C. to return to China on Nov. 19, the National Zoo said in a press release.
The giant panda cub was born to mom Mei Xiang and dad Tian Tian at the Washington National Zoological Park on Aug. 22, 2015. Bei Bei's been living apart from his mother since March 2017, the zoo says.
"Bei Bei is part of our family," said zoo director Steve Monfort in a statement. "We’re sad he’s leaving, but excited for the contributions he will make to the global giant panda population."
Bei Bei celebrated his fourth birthday with a special cake and birthday party in August — but that will be his last in D.C.
But it will certainly not be the last time he's celebrated by Washingtonians. From Nov. 11-18, expect a week of "Bye Bye, Bei Bei" celebrations. Bei Bei will take over the panda came for the week, there will be keeper Q&A sessions and farewell crafts.
Panda keepers are already working on preparing Bei Bei for his long journey, including by acclimating him to his travel crate. At first, keepers will encourage him to move through it every day.
Eventually, he'll hang out in there with the door closed — and treats to sweeten the deal.
When FedEx ships Bei Bei next month on a nonstop flight from D.C. to Chengdu, China, a panda keeper and a veterinarian will accompany him. And of course, he'll get more of his favorite treats, including sweet potatoes, apples, pears, carrots, biscuits and bamboo.
The keeper will stay with Bei Bei at one of the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda centers for a few days.
What's in store for Bei Bei's future? When he reaches sexual maturity, between 5 and 7 years old, he'll enter into the panda breeding program.
“Our giant pandas represent much of what the Smithsonian does best, from conservation to education,” Lonnie Bunch, Secretary of the Smithsonian, said 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.”
Any cubs born to Mei Xiang and Tian Tian belong to China and must be sent back at age 4 to be part of the breeding program there, according to the zoo’s arrangement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association.
Bei Bei’s older sister, Bao Bao, moved to China in 2017.
Zookeepers waited for a few months after Bei Bei's birthday because it's better for pandas to travel in winter and spring when it's cooler outside.